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City Leaders, Labor Battle Over Scrapping Pensions


Katie Orr reports from member station KPBS in San Diego.

KATIE ORR: A political ad playing on radio stations across Southern California depicts a scene a lot of people living here are familiar with.


INSKEEP: Oh, I just got back from the supermarket and those pushy signature gatherers are back.

ORR: Unidentified Man: Oh, honey, please tell me you didn't sign their petitions.


INSKEEP: Unidentified Woman: Are you kidding me?

ORR: San Diego Councilman Carl Demaio is one of the biggest supporters of eliminating city pensions. He's filed a complaint with the state attorney general's office asking for an investigation into the ad and other labor activities he says are designed to disrupt the initiative process.

CARL DEMAIO: I don't care whose initiative it's targeted at - it's wrong, it's deceptive, and the folks that have put this ad up should be held accountable.

ORR: Demaio also filed a complaint with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission. The complaint has since been dismissed. Demaio maintains labor unions are afraid his measure will pass if it does make it to the voters.

DEMAIO: And so what they're trying to do is scare Californians and San Diegans into not exercising their initiative rights under the Constitution.

ROGER SALAZAR: The complaint is frivolous and we feel that it's without merit and it will be dismissed.

ORR: Roger Salazar is spokesman for Californians Against Identity Theft. He says people who sign petitions should be cautious.

SALAZAR: I think we have every right to broadcast our views about the sordid history and the potential future abuses that are inherent in California signature gathering process.

ORR: Vladimir Kogan studies voter trends at the University of California San Diego. He says the chances of your identity being stolen based on signing a petition are slim. He says a lot of the information signers give is already public record.

VLADIMIR KOGAN: So for example, in my computer I have a data set of all voters in San Bernardino County. I not only have their addresses and birthdates, I know if they have a cat or a dog. I know what language they speak at home. I know how many kids they have. I know how old their kids are.

ORR: But Kogan says it wouldn't be a bad thing if the ad gets people to think more critically about what they're signing. Still, he says California's initiative process has strayed far from its origins.

KOGAN: If you went back a hundred years and you asked the framers of the California Constitution and the framers of the initiative process what they envisioned, they would not envision paid signature collectors sitting outside of Wal-Mart.

ORR: For NPR News, I'm Katie Orr in San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Katie Orr