CalPERS renews bankruptcy fight with San Bernardino

Stepping up pressure on the city of San Bernardino, CalPERS said Thursday it will appeal a judge’s ruling that allowed the city to file for bankruptcy.

The pension fund, stymied because San Bernardino owes it $17 million in overdue payments, tried to have the city’s bankruptcy filing tossed out of court earlier this year. If it had succeeded, CalPERS would have had greater freedom to recoup its money, but the attempt was turned aside in August by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Meredith Jury.

CalPERS’ decision to appeal means the standoff with San Bernardino continues.

“This appeal affirms our commitment to support and defend the integrity of the system and our members’ vested rights,” CalPERS Chief Executive Anne Stausboll said in a prepared statement. “CalPERS must and will continue to pursue all past-due contributions.”

The San Bernardino City Council a week ago adopted a tentative plan to deal with all its creditors, including CalPERS, but the plan remains secret while the city negotiates with those creditors via mediation.

Publicly, though, the city has vowed to take a hard line against the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. Mayor Pat Morris recently called the city’s annual obligations to CalPERS “the giant whale in the general fund deficit,” and this week he endorsed a statewide ballot initiative unveiled by San Jose’s mayor to reform pensions. San Bernardino’s annual CalPERS tab is about $25 million.

After not paying its bills for several months, San Bernardino resumed its pension payments to CalPERS when the new fiscal year began in July. But it still owes $17 million.

San Bernardino’s attitude toward CalPERS contrasts with another city in bankruptcy proceedings, Stockton, which has continued making all payments to the pension fund at the same time it made deals last week to restructure millions of dollars in bond debt.