San Luis Obispo City Council battling over binding arbitration

February 16, 2011


After a contentious debate, San Luis Obispo City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to call for a special council meeting next week to discuss repealing or revising binding arbitration and pensions for public safety employees.

Next Tuesday, the council is slated to vote on whether or not to allow the public another chance to vote on binding arbitration, a mandate that resulted in police officers receiving a 30 percent raise in 2008.

“My strong belief is that taxpayers think we need to get hold of our budget and 80 percent of our operating expenses go toward salary and benefits,” said councilman Andrew Carter.  “The citizens are becoming more aware that city employees have an above average income than that of the public or the private sector, and their benefits are off the charts.”

Binding arbitration, voted in by the public in 2000, entitles public safety workers’ unions to bring in a third party arbitrator if labor talks are at an impasse. The city and the unions are then required to abide by the arbitrator’s decision.

“If this gets put on the ballot, it is a choice for the taxpayers – if you want your council to have control, we can’t have binding arbitration,” Carter said.

Last night, Carter asked that the agenda for a proposed March 1 council meeting include a discussion of binding arbitration and employee pensions and the possibility of placing both issues up for a city-wide election as early as June

Both city manager Katie Lichtig and city attorney Christine Dietrick concurred that the issue should be heard at a special meeting on February 22 at 7 p.m. in order to provide staff the time needed to prepare the ballot measure along with a title and summary for the proposed June election.

Council members Andrew Carter, Dan Carpenter and Kathy Smith voted in favor of having a special meeting to allow the public to discuss placing binding arbitration up for a vote of the people.

Mayor Jan Howell Marx and councilman John Ashbaugh said they were opposed to revisiting the issue because prior discussions have been very contentious and that the people had voted 57 to 42 in favor of binding arbitration in 2000.

Council members are asking the public to have their voices heard through either email or during public comment at the council meeting scheduled for February 22 at 7 p.m.


I don’t think that most people knew what they were voting for,or if they did,didn’t know how greedy people can be. Not a police! I didn’t keep my voting pamplet and would be interested in reading it again. Could be one of those slick yes means no and no means yes Freudian thingies that I wouldn’t put past a Union’s lawyer.

Kevin Rice

Measure S was on the ballot as follows:

Police and Firefighters Binding Arbitration

Shall the San Luis Obispo City Charter be amended to provide that disputes about wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment that cannot be resolved by negotiations between the City and the Police Officers’ Association and the Firefighters’ Union be subject to binding arbitration that is final without City Council or voter approval?

10225 / 57.30% Yes votes

7619 / 42.70% No votes

Measure T was on the ballot as follows:

Binding Arbitration Award Limits

Shall the “Taxpayer’s Right to Decide” be enacted, amending the City’s Charter to ensure fiscal accountability to the San Luis Obispo citizens by requiring voter approval of any binding arbitration award that imposes a financial burden greater than the increase in the local cost of living or the City’s final offer, whichever is greater, limiting binding arbitration to salary only, and enacting other provisions to implement binding arbitration if it is approved by Measure S?

6761 / 38.54% Yes votes

10781 / 61.46% No votes

Kevin Rice

The issue people did not know was the arbitrator cannot pick a reasonable middle ground. They must decide each completely one way or the other ONLY:

“…by selecting whichever last offer of settlement on that issue it finds most nearly conforms to those factors traditionally taken into consideration…” (SLO City Charter, Section 1107).


The people certainly didn’t know that the arbitrator couldn’t pick a middle ground. I have no doubt that with this knowledge the vote would be considerably different. With things the way they are now, we will get taken to the cleaners.


What really drives me nutty is the government agencies’ talk of two-tiered compensation systems. In essence pay new hires considerably less throughout their careers with the given government agency.

If they are even considering that aren’t they conceding that that jobs can be filled for less taxpayer money?

No two-tiered compensation systems! Pay them ALL what the free market demands! Re-align ALL the SLO CIty compensation schedules. If current employees feel they are worth more then they can send out their resumes to other employers and make the move to higher paying jobs. If SLO Cops and Firefighters can’t handle 25-40% cuts they can quit and hire-on someplace else or they can open their own businesses (grin) and actually earn what they feel they are worth…

The SLO public safety employees are going to fight with terrible vengeance and $$$ to keep their absurdly bloated compensation deals. We voters need to solidly stand behind Carpenter/Carter/Smith and we need to make sure to get the facts out.

Kevin Rice

6 p.m.: Councilman Andrew Carter will be on KVEC 920 AM on the Dave Congalton show.


Let the people vote on the issue of repealing or keeping binding arbitration.

No government entity should ever allow binding arbitration to be forced upon the tax payers. if you don’t believe this is a one sided issue, just watch how much energy and money is going to be spent by the public safety unions to defeat this!

How many average people who live and work in SLO who make $100,000 to $150,000? Your police and firefighters do, and most live outside the city!


Jan Howell Marx and councilman John Ashbaugh are the lap dogs of the public safety unions. They don’t want to revisit binding arbitration because it’s bound to be “very contentious”? On really? Are they both afraid to be civic leaders during difficult times? Why are they on the city council right now?

I am glad to see that Carpenter/Carter/Smith have the resolve to ensure the voters have a chance to provide their input. If you think wages and benefits are strangling SLO just wait another 5-10 years. Then the City of SLO can go through bankruptcy because of all the bloated compensation packages.

Here is issue #1 that is going the right way because Carpenter was appointed to the council. Had the other applicant been appointed, she would have went along with Marx and Ashbaugh and the taxpayer would have been forever screwed…


I agree and we have Kevin Rice to thank for having brought that conniving trio/cadre (Ashbaugh, Marx & crony) to the public’s attention. Without Kevin Rice and the “bright light” that he cast on the process at when they were appointing a 5th CC member, I have no doubt that we would not be fortunate enough to have Carpenter, who had the popular vote, seated today.



There is no doubt that Kevin Rice made a difference and continues to provide a much needed voice in SLO. Thank you Kevin.

If the nightmare of Ashbaugh, Marx & crony had been realized, spending would continue on autopilot — particularly for public safety employees. It would have created a an absolutely horrible problem for future generations — long after the Marxs of the world are living in comfy retirement elsewhere in the world.

I am ready for a nasty fight with the public safety unions and their supporters.

I hope Kevin goes after Lichtig next. HER compensation package makes my skin crawl…

Kevin Rice

The problem with Lichtig is her contractual and automatic 9-months severance pay. I’d vote to cut losses and dump her if we could find someone right-headed at half the pay–which I think we could. She clearly doesn’t have her heart in SLO and I believe that she commutes and lives in Los Angeles County with her husband.


All I can say is find away to break her contract without paying her greenmail. Whoever agreed to that contract should be shot. I can certainly think of more than one way sitting here at my computer… ;)

All Lichtig is doing is trying to hold on until she can land an even better job someplace closer to home in Los Angeles. She’s using us. If she gets canned (I suspect that was a real concern of hers from the very beginning) she’s planned for that with a ridiculous severence package.

Given her contract and the fact she lives in LA she’s pretty much a part time CAO being paid far more than a full time salary. Not only is she a wasted paycheck, she’s also going to do damage before she goes. This crap has to end.

Kevin Rice

Can’t break a contract. That’s what they are for.

The approvals would be Ashbaugh/Marx/Settle/Carter/Romero, but your solution isn’t politically correct to say the least.

Just terminate the contract and cut the losses before they accrue even more.


It’s not a matter of breaking a contract. It would be a matter of creating an environment where she chooses to leave.

You’re right though. Paying her to go away would definitely be easier and possibly even cheaper then playing hardball.

How long is her contract?

Kevin Rice

She chooses to leave??? Ha! So, for $200K, what would cause YOU to choose to leave?

Length of her contract? It’s INDEFINITE!!! WHAT A GEM, EH?!!

Google “Katie Lichtig contract” — it will be the first link. I’d provide it here, but CCN withholds links for moderation.

Here’s some gems in her contract:

Section 3: Benefits – “vacation leave accrual rate of 160 hours per year” (20 days a year!)

Section 9: Relocation Assistance – “City shall pay… all reasonable relocation expenses”; “City shall reimburse… temporary rental expense not to exceed $2,500 per month”; “City shall…loan…to assist with purchase of a principal residence…$125,000…interest rate…tied to the City’s Local Agency Investment Fund rate”

Section 12: No reduction of Pay and/or Benefits – “Council shall not…reduce the salary, compensation or other financial benefits of KATIE LICHTIG…”

Section 13: Termination and Severance Pay – “Council agrees to pay her a lump sum cash payment equal to nine (9) months compensation (salary and all appointed officials fringe benefits).”

Kevin Rice

Good grief, we elected people who actually agreed to THAT? Time to bite the bullet and cut her loose…


Bull. There are many reasons on both sides of this issue and it seems that ideological leanings are tainting debate here. I don’t have a strong opinion now on this issue but shrieking politics isn’t going to help our debate. Some of you don’t like our Mayor or John Ashbaugh-well too goddamn bad! They were elected, along with others, and you could help the city by helping them to govern better instead of whining.


Do you mean we should help them by agreeing with binding arbitration and the 30% increases afforded to local PD and FD?

Yes we voted on BA but we never expected to see an arbitrator do something so obtuse. The union demands were clearly unreasonable and we just can’t afford these unreasonable salaries and benefits. Why should a taxpayer have to finance a public employee’s wages, benefits and early retirement when that employee would never qualify for those earnings in the very sector that is financing them?

What is your problem? Maybe you’re guilty of supporting unions and you just “want what you want” regardless of the cost to your fellow citizens? Talk about entitlements!

You say there are many reasons, like what , the threat of a strike? I wish they could all strike and we could replace them and ignore them until they went out and found other jobs. I wish we could clean this mess up by filing bankruptcy and re-organizing our local gubmint with public contractors until we take control back.

What do you want?


So here we go; Binding Arbitration isn’t the evil that caused our city to shell out more than it should have in coming to an agreement with the Police Officers Association. It was the steadfast refusal of the city leaders to negotiate at all that led to the POA gathering signatures and placing the issue on the ballot. If the city had actually sat down with POA and tried to come to a compromise, the issue would have never come up for a vote by the citizens. Another consideration about the binding arbitration that most seem to miss is that when the time came, the city leaders had the option of choosing one of the three arbitrators with the POA choosing one of the others, and then a third “impartial” arbitrator finishing out the panel. I firmly believe that if the city had show any interest in negotiating with the POA and the issue had still gone to arbitration, the outcome would have been much different. I think the arbitrators ruled the way they did because of the steadfast refusal by the city to even sit down to the table and talk with the POA. If binding arbitration remains as a rule for the city, there is no guarantee how they rule next time. The whole uproar against binding arbitration is just a very thinned veiled swipe at public employee unions; given the financial reality our city is facing right now, how about an adult conversation with any and all employee groups (whether or not they are in a union) to discuss how to reduce the costs the city has to pay. Without such a conversation being steeped in the reality of our situation and how there needs to be a “shared suffering” among all groups, any attempts to blame one group over another is just demonizing and scapegoating.


I don’t recall many other employee groups getting increases like, why would anyone want to share the suffering if they didn’t share in the bounty. (Relativfely speaking. In fact the whole system has become a self congratulatory ATM machine)


I’m not sure I understand your statement “It was the steadfast refusal of the city leaders to negotiate at all that led to the POA gathering signatures and placing the issue on the ballot. If the city had actually sat down with POA and tried to come to a compromise, the issue would have never come up for a vote by the citizens”. If I understand this correctly, Binding Arbitration was passed in 2000 and yet it wasn’t used until 2008. Also, how many times before 2000 did the City refuse to sit down with POA. As a native, I don’t recall Police or Fire in the past 20 years making the public aware of the City not bargaining in good faith and the past contracts reflect good contracts (15 minutes paid time prior to shift start/end for dressing, three 12 hour shifts for a work week, all promotions have been “in house”, etc. I really think the City has been fair in its negotations and see no reason for binding arbitration other than the benefits for POA to get more, more, more. By the way, I do think you all do a good job for the compensation received, but after reading the Chamber letter to its membership I find the threats and statements made by Police and Fire totally unprofessional and inappropriate.


I think people are looking at binding arbitration as something that only benefits public safety!!!!

The reality is it keeps everyone on a fair playing field. Most importantly it stops people like Katie Lichtig from screwing city employees. In 2008 a THIRD party arbitrator decided that the city of San Luis Obispo was failing to pay public safety the salary they deserve based on numerous factors including: population, calls for service, CITY REVENUES as well as many other areas. This THIRD party arbitrator that did not have ties to either side made this decision.

Now moving on the city would be praising binding arbitration if the police asked for a 30 percent raise next year and a THIRD party arbitrator said that instead of a 30 percent raise police only get a 1 percent raise.

Binding arbitration works because they are not allowed to impose a salary increase, which would leave the city in financial ruin. Binding arbitration is not the enemy go figure out how much money SLO city has in their reserves and then look at Katie Lichtig and whats she chooses to tell everyone.

You need to understand binding arbitration from all sides before you can fault it or public safety

Fire- Katie Lichtig


The San Luis City Charter requires that the City maintain a 20% reserve of the budget total. That is not extra money to be spent just because the City has it – it is a good business concept, a RESERVE. It is for emergencies (disasters and unexpected situations) NOT for salaries, bene’s and pensions. I think we all found out that when PD went for binding arbitration in 2008 the arbitrator has only two choices; YES, pay the employees what they want regardless if right or wrong, or, NO, because the City cannot afford it is the only valid reason to deny pay increases. As I recall, the arbitrator even stated in a news article after the fact that if the City said it couldn’t afford the PD request, the arbitrator would have to deny it. The arbitrator cannot make recommendations, change any of the requests on either side, etc. The arbitrator only has the two choices, straight up or down, YES or NO! Obviously, this City has been very fair and generous to its employee’s, top to bottom. I really don’t think binding arbitration works well for the City as a whole and if it is so great, give it to all City employees, not just the powerful safety unions… After reviewing the contracts of a couple of groups of City employees, I really think that this City is a great place to work. Our officers are making a lot more than Santa Maria, Monterey, Los Angeles, etc. ploce/fire. How much more do you want. Change must happen, it is reality and that is a true fact. While Katie Lichtig has made some major mistakes upon her arrival, and yes, she needs to make better decisions, this issue was not caused by her (she wasn’t even here at the time). Binding Arbitration takes responsbility out of the hands of the City and does not benefits any taxpayer who is fully responsible for these salaries, bene’s and pensions.


You say “…when the PD went for binding arbitration…”. BA became an issue because both parties ‘went’ for it. The CC hired a negotiator to bargain with the POA, and then either directed or allowed that negotiator to declare an impasse and invoke BA. If the city’s negotiator didn’t make the case to the arbitrator about affordability and making that case could have influence the arbitrator’s decision, how is that somehow the fault of the POA?

The intended effect of binding arbitration is to compel the party with the most to lose to stay at the table and arrive at a mutually-acceptable position on an issue. The financial impact of either decision available to the arbitrator on the salary issue was known before BA was invoked. The CC acted through their paid negotiator. It’s disingenuous to say they didn’t.


Sounds like the same BS being spouted by most all the politicos these days. They just can’t bring themselves to face the 800lb gorilla even though it is siting in the same room with them…

Here is a good read by Tim Cavanaugh about how this is effecting the great state of CA,

I hope the modslet this one go through…


Hear me loud. Hear me now. Jan Marx is a one-term mayor. She sold her soul to the cops and firefighters in order to get elected mayor. Now she must defend that which is indefensible. She doesn’t want us to vote on binding arbitration because “prior discussions have been very contentious.” What planet are you from, Jan?

John Ewan, please run for mayor.

Andrew Carter, please run for mayor.

Paul Brown, please run for mayor again.

Please, anyone, run for mayor.


You took the words from my mouth. What the hell kind of comment is that from Jan??? It’s too contentious to talk about???? Wow. Then she references a vote that took place over ten years ago during drastically different economic times and feels that is sufficient for today? Or does she mean forever???

Tax payers now know how royally screwed we have been by the binding arbitration and the unions. There would have been a different out come of the binding arbitration vote ten years ago if the tax payers knew that 80% of our city’s strapped budget would go to salaries, bene’s and pensions.

Andrew Carter:

Thank you for applying some common sense here. This issue, without question needs to brought back to the tax paying voters.

Jan Howel Marxi:

You should be ashamed of yourself for or either your ignorance on this issue or your belief that the tax payers in this town are a bunch of mindless lemmings. Move to put this issue to vote or be recalled.