The San Diego Police Officers Assn. (POA) Monday submitted more than 73,000 signatures on petitions calling for a June 3 city referendum to increase San Diego Police Department salaries so they are comparable to the average pay of the California Highway Patrol and officers in the largest cities in the state.
A spokesman for the city clerk's office said 45,254 verified signatures of registered voters are required to qualify the one-time police pay raise for the ballot. City officials have estimated that the measure, if approved by the voters, would increase department salaries by as much as 17% and cost the city about $10 million.
The proposed amendment to the City Charter is likely to be an issue in the upcoming mayor's race. POA President Ty Reid said his organization would "actively oppose any candidate who came out against us on this issue."
Earlier this year, during contract negotiations that concluded when the City Council voted to unilaterally adopt a contract yielding a 5.5% pay increase for the officers, POA officials repeatedly said low salaries contributed to sagging department morale and that the San Diego Police Department has been losing good officers to other departments as a result.
Police Chief Bill Kolender, in announcing Monday that he would not be a candidate for mayor, endorsed the pay hike referendum. "I can't legally actively politic for it, but I will vote for it," Kolender said.
Reid said the union would spend "several hundred thousand dollars," in its campaign to get the measure approved, and predicted it would meet with strong opposition from council members and other city officials. The group plans to hire a professional political consulting firm to direct its campaign and to invest in direct-mail and other forms of advertising.
"This will inform the voters that other cities have managed to pay a decent salary to their police officers," Reid said. "We feel it is reasonable to assume that City Hall can tighten its belt by 1.8% (the percentage the city budget would have to be increased to pay for the raises), and we're confident a majority of the city's voters will agree with us on that."
Some council members, including acting Mayor Ed Struiksma, a former police officer, have said they would consider placing a second referendum on the June ballot, calling for salary increases smaller than those dictated by the formula proposed by the POA. A similar strategy was used in 1983 to defeat a referendum calling for salary increases for the city's firefighters.
Reid acknowledged that a companion measure is "a possibility, but I think this time it would backfire," adding that he thought voters were aware that the police officers "went through extensive, unsuccessful salary negotiations with the city and that we could not find a common ground."
The POA president likened the police pay measure to the slow-growth initiative, Proposition A, approved in November. With that measure, the electorate took control of the destiny of San Diego's urban reserve, which now cannot be developed until 1995 unless projects are approved by the city's voters.