GAMING THE SYSTEM ... State Sen. Joe Simitian has a new target on his legislative agenda: public employees who pad their salaries just before retirement to ensure larger pension payments. The Palo Alto democrat announced this week that his bill to address this issue of "pension spiking" sailed through the state Senate by a 34-0 vote and is now bound for the state Assembly. The goal of Senate Bill 1425, Simitian said, is to curb the rising pension costs by setting new criteria for calculating pension payments. The criteria would exclude such factors as one-time bonuses, end-of-career promotions and accrued vacation time. Simitian said in a statement that the current system, which bases pensions on final year salaries, encourages workers to boost their salaries and, essentially, "game the system." A study in 2007 by the Pacific Research Institute estimated that this practice costs taxpayers about $100 million annually. "Pension spiking does a disservice to the public, who ultimately foots the bill; and it does a disservice to other public employees who rely on the resources and solvency of the system for a secure retirement," Simitian said in a statement.
A COMMON MESSAGE ... More than a year ago, leaders from five Peninsula cities came together to share complaints and information about California's proposed high-speed-rail project. Now, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Belmont and Burlingame — the members of the Peninsula Cities Consortium — are crafting a "core message" that captures the cities' position on the controversial 800-mile project. The consortium cities, according to the proposed message, "believe that the rail system should be built right — or not at all." "By 'right' we mean that the rail line should integrate into our communities without disrupting their current livability," and should be designed through a "collaborative process." The cities are also calling for the High-Speed Rail Authority to provide a valid business plan and a valid ridership study; fill all the positions on the Proposition 1A-mandated Peer Review Committee; allow more time for review of rail-related studies; "empower community leaders" to help select the final alternative for the rail line; and "treat community members with respect and refrain from labeling them." "Until these principles are in place, we believe high-speed rail should be put on hold," the proposed core message states. The Palo Alto City Council is scheduled to discuss, and possibly endorse, the core message at its meeting on Monday.