Long sounding the alarm for city employee pension reform, former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan is no longer waiting for the City Council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to come up with the big fix.

On Friday morning, Riordan will file papers with the City Clerk so he can start a signature-gathering campaign and ultimately place a pension reform initiative on the May 2013 ballot. The former mayor says that if voters approve the measure, the city will save “hundreds of millions of dollars” every year by 2017 and an upwards of a billion dollars by 2020.

In an exclusive interview with L.A. Weekly, Riordan explains that his dramatic move, which will pit his campaign against powerful city employee unions and City Hall politicians, is to “prevent the city of Los Angeles from going bankrupt, and preventing the closing of our parks and severe damages to services. In short, it's to stop us from becoming a third-world city.”

Riordan calls his plan the “Fair Share Pension Reform Act of 2013.” Friend and billionaire Eli Broad and attorney David Fleming are helping with the effort.

Riordan's plan will have current city employees contribute a “small and fair amount” to their pension benefits and will enroll new workers in a 401k system with a maximum 10 percent contribution from the city. It also promises to end employee “double-dipping.”

Los Angeles City Council passed a small pension reform plan in September, which is expected to only save between $30 million and $70 million over a five-year period. City employee unions fought hard against that minor fix, so they'll undoubtedly wage war over Riordan's plan.

Los Angeles politicians also won't be thrilled that Riordan is now going over their heads and taking pension reform to voters. The former mayor, who brought City Charter reform to voters in the late 1990s, remains unapologetic.

“The politicians at City Hall have not taken this seriously,” Riordan says. “They passed legislation that takes care of 1 percent of the problem.”

Riordan says that if no major changes are made within the next five years, 100 percent of the city's budget will be dedicated to paying for pensions and police and fire services.

If that becomes the case, Riordan says, the quality of life for all Angelenos will be affected, especially the poor, who rely on various city services.

Critics have already said that Riordan as mayor made his own poor choices when dealing with city employee pension plans. He counters, “I wasn't a perfect mayor. But we're not talking about what I did yesterday or what the current politicians did yesterday. We're talking about today and the future of Los Angeles.”

(Editor's note: Patrick Range McDonald co-wrote Richard Riordan's as-yet-to-be-published memoir.)

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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