Click photo to enlarge
Tuck Younis, then assistant police chief in San Jose, 2007. (Maria J. Avila/Mercury News)

When former San Jose police Chief William Lansdowne retired in 2003, he quickly pinned back on a badge in San Diego and now receives more than $400,000 a year in public money, benefiting from a government perk that California's much-lauded pension reform does nothing to disturb.

Lansdowne is one of the state's biggest beneficiaries of "double-dipping," drawing both public retirement pay from San Jose and a public salary in San Diego. And when it comes to San Jose's past police commanders, he's far from alone: Former Chief Louis Cobarruviaz and two former captains each took home more than $340,000 last year by working as Bay Area police chiefs and getting San Jose pensions, an analysis by this newspaper shows.

Last week's surprise announcement that current San Jose police Chief Chris Moore plans to retire at 51 raised new questions about why pension reform efforts in San Jose and Sacramento have done little to address double-dipping. Moore, who will begin drawing a pension of more than $150,000 early next year, said he has "no immediate second career plans."

The newspaper's analysis, based on a limited sampling of pay and pension data, shows more than 50 people double-dipping at Bay Area governments, including at least 10 inspectors at the Alameda County District Attorney's Office and even former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese, who receives two California pensions.

"You do the math and you say, 'I might as well retire and I can look for another job doing something else,'" said San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, acknowledging the hard-to-ignore incentive especially for public safety employees who in many retirement systems can start drawing pensions worth up to 90 percent of their salaries by their 50th birthdays.

But it's not just cops and firefighters. Workers double-dip by receiving either both pension and paychecks, like Lansdowne does, or multiple government pensions, like Meese does, the newspaper found. How does this happen? They do it by crossing pension systems.

Police officers who retire from most Bay Area cities draw their pension from the state Public Employees' Retirement System, or CalPERS. If they go back to work for another agency that is a CalPERS member, they can only collect their pension for a few months -- then it's frozen until they actually retire.

But if they find a new job at a government agency with a separate pension plan, such as Alameda County, one of 22 independent county retirement systems in the state, they can double-dip. There, they can still get their monthly CalPERS check and their county pay, plus contributions toward a future county pension. San Jose's stand-alone pension system lets Lansdowne and others do the same thing.

"There is no law against working for a non-PERS-affiliated employer and still earning a (CalPERS) pension," said Brad Pacheco, a CalPERS spokesman.

State lawmakers considered limits on double-dipping across retirement systems during their pension reform discussions but they proved to be too difficult to achieve because county retirement agencies have a great amount of independence, said Mark Hedlund, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. "It just got to be too unworkable."

Former North Bay Assemblyman Joe Nation said something needs to change to stop public officials from receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through double-dipping.

"This is something that people are generally going to find outrageous," said Nation, who studies public pensions at Stanford University.

The newspaper's analysis shows double-dipping goes on across the region with police grossing more than people in other jobs. Still, the data show only a sampling of the practice, in part because some county retirement systems, including those in Alameda and Sonoma counties, won't release gross pension amounts without being paid.

Many of the county retirement systems remain shrouded in secrecy and are reluctant to release detailed pension data, said Karl Olson, a San Francisco lawyer who has successfully sued four of them to pry loose pension amounts. "They act as though the public is the enemy," he said. Pension amounts are "definitely information they don't want the public to know."

Still, a sampling of available data show:

  • In Contra Costa County, retiring Clayton police Chief Daniel Lawrence combined his salary with a Contra Costa County pension to gross $282,000 last year. Former County Administrator Phil Batchelor receives pensions from both the county and CalPERS. He grossed $180,000.

  • In San Mateo County, former Redwood City police Chief Cobarruviaz grossed $350,000 last year by double-dipping a San Jose pension before retiring for a second time. Former county Administrator John Maltbie grossed $201,000 between two pensions.

  • In Marin County, three police chiefs drew county pensions and city salaries last year, ranging from a combined $232,000 to $348,000.

  • In Alameda County, where District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said she employs a "cream of the crop" team of retired police officers as inspectors, at least 10 of them draw pensions that push their combined gross pay from public sources to more than $230,000 each.

    County 2011 compensation data show that taxpayers contributed an additional nearly $600,000 to the county's pension plan for what will become those employees' eventual second pensions.

    Double-dippers even cross over to the federal government. Former San Mateo County Sheriff's Deputy Don O'Keefe got a $149,000 county pension last year while working as the U.S. marshal for Northern California. A Marshals Service spokeswoman refused to provide his federal salary.

    Former Alameda County Sheriff Charles Plummer has double-dipped since 1986, the year he began drawing a CalPERS pension after retiring as Hayward's police chief. He continued to draw that pension during his 20 years in elected office. Last year, he got $95,000 from CalPERS plus an undisclosed amount from Alameda County.

    "What was I going to do, not take it?'' Plummer said of the pension payments he received while also being paid as sheriff. "I earned it."

    While reforming the disparate county systems is difficult, Nation offered a simpler idea to rein in double-dipping: raise retirement ages.

    Many government workers may retire in name from a job after 20 years, but Nation said it's too often clear: "They don't really retire."

    Staff writers Daniel Willis, Matthew Artz and Joshua Melvin and Robert Sterling of the Marin Independent Journal contributed to this report. Contact Thomas Peele at tpeele@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/thomas_peele.

    THE DOUBLE-DIPPERS
    A sampling of Bay Area double-dippers in 2011:
    William Lansdowne, San Jose pension and San Diego salary: $414,000
    Tuck Younis, San Jose pension and Los Altos salary: $372,000
    Louis Cobarruviaz, San Jose pension and Redwood City salary: $350,000
    Michael Cronin, San Rafael pension and Tiburon salary: $348,000
    Manuel Martinez, San Jose pension and Daly City salary: $346,000
    Daniel Lawrence, Contra Costa pension and Clayton salary: $282,000
    John Rohrbacher, San Rafael pension and Sausalito salary: $276,000
    David Kozicki, Oakland pension and Alameda County salary: $255,000
    Michael Foster, Oakland pension and Alameda County salary: $249,000
    Bruce Brock, Oakland pension and Alameda County salary: $244,000
    Erik Masterson, San Rafael pension and Ross salary: $232,000
    Source: Bay Area News Group databases of public compensation and pensions