State judge tosses SLO ballot measure, restores binding arbitration

March 7, 2014
Christine Dietrick

Christine Dietrick

A California administrative law judge has overturned the results of a 2011 city of San Luis Obipso election that eliminated binding arbitration for police officers and firefighters.

Last week, California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) Judge Valerie Pike Racho voided the results of Measure B, which passed with 73 percent of the vote in Augusts 2011. Measure B eliminated binding arbitration from San Luis Obispo’s charter. Racho’s decision restored binding arbitration to the city charter.

After the passage of Measure B and Measure A, a pension reform initiative, the San Luis Obispo Police Officers Association (SLOPOA) filed an unfair practice charge with PERB. The POA asserted that the city did not uphold its duty to bargain prior to sending the binding arbitration issue to the voters.

The POA promoted binding arbitration after its representatives and the city failed to agree on negotiations regarding multiple issues. For example, union representatives argued to require the city to provide one year of health benefits for family members of police officers or firefighters killed on the job. The request was denied.

On Feb. 28, Racho upheld the results of Measure A but overturned Measure B, ruling that the city violated the California Meyer-Milias-Brown Act by failing to make a good faith effort to negotiate with the POA prior to placing Measure B on the ballot.

“The city had an affirmative duty to consult in good faith with the POA before it introduced Measure B to the voters,” Racho wrote in the ruling.

City Attorney Christine Dietrick argued that previous court rulings exempted the city from needing to negotiate prior to the election. The POA also waived its right to bargain by repeatedly delaying discussions, Dietrick argued in the PERB case.

The city attorney likewise claimed that San Luis Obispo can amend its charter with voter approval. Racho ruled, though, that California general law trumps local measures.

Racho’s ruling found Measure A exempt from the pre-election negotiation requirement because the initiative in itself did not change employee benefits.

Measure A amended the charter to eliminate the city council’s need for voter approval to alter or terminate its contract with CalPERS, the state’s retirement system. Measure A passed with 74 percent of the vote, and the council later negotiated pension cuts for city employees.

The city has 20 days to appeal Racho’s ruling. The council will meet in a special closed session hearing Monday to discuss the matter.


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All the city had to do was play by the rules and obey the law. They chose not to and now they have to deal with the consequences. This is exactly why the police and fire departments wanted binding arbitration. The city does not play fair!!!!!

It not longer matters what the people want. The government will tell us how to do everthing. We should all be very afraid of a government that no longer responds to the will of the people.

Isoslo….no, your local government screwe d you. Don’t blame this on anyone else except Lichtig and Dietrick. They screwe d you.

Every government screw us, federal, state, county, city and all the little quazi-government entities like APCD et al. It really is us against them and them write the rules. It will be the downfall of the USA!

The police and the firefighters screwed us and our local government was too incompetent to deal with it properly. Their incompetence does not bring any moral justification to the true details of this story.

It does matter what the people want. Nothing has been rescinded. This administrative judge does not have authority to modify our city charter. Neither does the city council.

The city council meets Monday. Write the council ( and tell them to appeal.

Kevin, no one is saying the people shouldn’t be able to get what they want. However, there is a process the city needed to follow and they didn’t. Why can’t you recognize they were wrong?

Where did I weigh in on the propriety of the process? I did not.

The only point I have made is the headline on this story is wrong. This administrative opinion does nothing to bring back binding arbitration. Measure B stands unchanged.

The only problem is the city would appeal with Christine Dietrick and she did such a poor job in the first place there is no hope on an appeal.

Yeah appeal it so when we lose the appeal we owe the union even more legal fees

What we can all take from this is that Dietrick’s legal opinion means less than squat. She advised council and administration that this was the way to go. She advised them how righteous she was based upon her amazing career as a lawyer. The simple question to all readers now, is how much did this debacle cost the residents of SLO and how much will this massive “F up” by the City attorney cost us as residents in the future?

Last one cost us 500k.

Again, incompetence is rampant in San Luis Obispo.

Check Walnut Creek, CA to see what San Luis Obispo will look like in the future.

We have become a citizenry of Lemmings.

Our votes have chosen these people who have made these decisions.

We voters and non-voters are to blame for what we are reaping now and in the future!

Isn’t it a bit communist to have a single individual veto the will of an overwhelming number of the citizens? I hate how much power judges and commissioners have in this county.

Amen. Happens all the time with these ballot measures. The time, money, and effort that people spend to determine the “will of the people”, only to have that will overturned by a hand-picked judge is criminal.

Voting for the mediocre men and women who supposedly represent the people is rarely worth the effort. Now the single reason left to vote, ballot measures, may no longer be worth the paper they are printend on.

No comrade is it not.

The people “intoxicated” with power wield their votes at the ballot box like a 2 year old child wields a framing hammer.

The courts must make sense of the things the voters pass and determine if they pass Constitutional muster.

In this case the judge determined the city erred by putting the measure on the ballot in stead of trying to negotiate in good faith with the officers.

Now I think the SLOPD are ridiculously over compensated when compared to the other city police and county sheriff, but their fat pay raise was the result of binding arbitration, which had been PASSED BY THE VOTERS in SLO… and the line about the baby and the hammer should be clearer now.

How was prop 8 unconstitutional? And don’t say it discriminated because everyone in America has the same right. Constitutional isi in the eye of the beholder, and something is or is not depending on political leanings of the Jude. That is why so many supreme ct decisions end up 5-4.

Prop 8 was unconstitutional because certain benefits are given to married couples, such as tax benefits or inheritance without taxes (depending on the size of the estate, etc) nowhere in any tax codes does it specify “one man and one woman” as a married couple. The Constitutional issue has/had nothing to do with who loves who or who commits to who “forever”.

It is entirely about equal protection under the law, which includes rights, priveledges and benefits. If marriage earned you nothing from the government, better still if government did not issue civil marriage licenses gay people would not have a leg to stand on. But if you give benefits to one you give them to all even if it rocks 2000 years of tradition and culture.

Our new culture of “Everybody gets a trophy” whether they work for it or not pushes equality arguments to the absurd sometimes, but Court decisions about Prop 8 were on firm footing and based on economic protections as applied under the Constitution.

This is my opinion, which may differ from yours; that’s where so many 5-4 rulings come from.

And for the record I am not a supporter of the concept of gay marriage based on my religious beliefs, but I do support the Constitution and it does not belong exclusively to any one group.

When everyone citizen in the United States has the same right, how is there not equal protection? By your argument prop13 ( mortgage interest deduction) is unconstitutional because not everyone owns a home. Restricting Roth IRA contributions to those who have magi of over 181 k must also deny equal protection.

Prop 13 was passed to prevent dramatic rises in property taxes on homes whose value was increasing because of Southern California real estate booms of the 1970’s. There were legal challenges from local governments who were frightened to lose so much revenue potential by having the increases fixed. The Proposition is constitutional because it applies to everyone who owns a home. Millionaires get the protection and so does the house maid, if she owns her home. The Equal Protection Clause does not guarantee everyone gets to own a house, only that those who do get the same benefits, just like the tax and inheritance benefits of marriage.

Retirement account regulations don’t state who can and cannot earn millions of dollars in America, only what happens to their tax rates if they do.

Your argument makes my point.. Those who get married get the same benefits. Everyone has the same right to get married as per the definition. There are certain people who choose not to get married and they do not get the benefits. There is no discrimination.

Isn’t it a bit disturbing to have your local government do what they damn well please with no regard for the law or it’s citizens?

She reminds me of Paso’s City Attorney Iris Yang. Their shared incompetence has cost SLO and Paso taxpayers big time!

Well if you appeal and the city loses, it becomes case law which could affect the entire and then everybody going to have to pay for $100,000.00 police officers and huge pensions, I say we’re screwed but then again, Measure A and B was also passed by the voters other than council.

Effect the entire if we lose the appeal

Another failure of Christine Dietrick, but why should she care she continues to get raises, thanks to the city council. The voters must enjoy the city they get thanks to the council they vote in.

The headline is erroneous. Binding arbitration has not been restored. The “judge” is an administrative employee of a state board, not a judge in a court of law.

I see this opinion of a state board brings hope to the minority who support binding arbitration. However, the opinion will not reverse a vote of the people which was already fought and upheld in SLO Superior Court ( Binding arbitration can only be resurrected by democracy, not a Sacramento state employee lawyer.

While “California general law trumps local measures”, this is not a local measure. It is a city charter (local Constitution) matter. Our “constitution” is enacted by popular vote. Measures are passed by five-member city council vote. General law does not trump democratic elections, especially where the Court has already adjudicated whether the election is proper (see above).

Simply stated, any remedy that ensues will not include nullification of the voters. A Sacramento employee cannot amend our city charter, and neither can the city council. Only the people can do so.



If you are correct (and I hope that you are), the city should be able to appeal this ruling to an actual judicial court. Will that be done? If not, why?

The decision to appeal is up to the five council members who represent you. If not? Well… ask them why.

By the way, even if the city doesn’t appeal our charter is still not amended by this administrative judge opinion. It is illegal to force a legislative body to pass a law.

The only thing this opinion raises are a bunch of really interesting legal questions. Binding arbitration is dead without the people’s vote restoring it.