A lawsuit at the heart of Pacific Grove's debate over the cost of public employee pensions is headed for a February trial.
The suit filed by city police officers seeks to invalidate an ordinance approved by the City Council in 2010 capping annual city pension contributions to 10 percent of an employee's salary. And it targets a subsequent voter-approved measure that squared the pension cap with the city charter.
The case is scheduled for trial starting Feb. 25, and a pretrial settlement conference Friday in Monterey County Superior Court.
Filing in November 2010, the suit's plaintiffs are two employee associations for Pacific Grove police officers and police managers and about 30 current and former police officers.
The pension cap conflicts with a retirement package the city gave its police officers — the CalPERS "3 percent-at-50" plan, which enables a public safety officer with 30 years on the job to retire at age 50 at 90 percent of his salary.
The city's current pension contribution rate for public safety employees is just over 26 percent — well above the contested 10 percent cap, said court papers.
Employees contribute 9 percent of their salary toward their pensions.
The police officers' suit, paralleled by a pending case before the state Public Employees Relations Board, contends the actions violate city contracts with police officers and state bargaining law. It also contends the city charter prevents employee compensation from being set by voter initiative.
Critics of the city's pension costs contend the public safety retirement plans — based on the 3 percent-at-50-package approved by the City Council in 2002 — are driving the Pacific Grove toward financial ruin.
A current citizens petition drive is seeking to qualify a ballot measure that would invalidate the 2002 pension increase for public safety employees.
David Laredo, city counsel, said the disputed legality of the 2002 council decision hasn't been injected in the lawsuit because it's outside the issues raised by the police officers' suit. City officials, moreover, have said challenging the 2002 action likely would mean lengthy litigation with little chance for success.
Added to the mix is the Dec. 31 expiration of the contract between the city and Police Officers Association, which called for the city to make the CalPERS payments.
Laredo said both the expired contract and lawsuit are subject to ongoing negotiations.
"We are meeting the (association Wednesday)," he said. "It's all on the table ... We're certainly going to try to come up with a middle ground by Friday."
An attorney representing the plaintiffs didn't answer a phone message Tuesday.
In court papers, the city argues the 10 percent cap doesn't preclude continued participation in CalPERS. Moreover, the plaintiffs can't meet their burden of proof, the city contends.
The plaintiffs say in court papers the city's current position capping contributions at 10 percent would be "devastating" to police association members.
Larry Parsons can be reached at 646-4379 or firstname.lastname@example.org.