California's mammoth public retirement system this month will launch a new online database that provides detailed information about retirees' pensions, according to a notice sent recently to member organizations.
The California Public Employees' Retirement System's database will provide information that is considered public: pensioners' names, their monthly gross pension payment, their base allowance, the cost-of-living adjustment, their years of service, the date they retired, their pension benefit formulas, final compensation and last employer.
About one-third of CalPERS' 1.6 million members are retirees, their beneficiaries or their survivors who receive a monthly allowance. For now, the new database will include only retirees' information, fund spokeswoman Amy Norris said.
"In recent years, interest in public pensions has increased," Cal-PERS said in the letter to stakeholder groups such as California State Retirees. "CalPERS receives and fills many requests for public information, including comprehensive inquiries from news organizations that literally seek information about every retiree in the system."
But Harvey Robinson, president of Retired Public Employees Association of California, said the policy would likely upset his members.
"You're going to have some little old ladies going crazy," said Robinson, who is on leave from the organization while he runs for the Cal-PERS board.
Robinson said he's concerned, too, because the information could provide enough detail for predators to gauge a retiree's age and then do harm. "This will put lives and property at risk," he said.
CalPERS acknowledged that the new level of transparency will make some retirees uncomfortable.
"We understand the sensitivity surrounding this database and know many of our members may object to what seems like traditionally very private information posted online," CalPERS said in its letter. "We believe our member data will remain better protected on our own website rather than on external databases kept by news or other organizations."
One of those "other organizations," California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, made hay and headlines a few years ago with its "$100,000 Pension Club" website.
CalPERS plans to start its database in the coming days after a few final details are worked out, Norris said.