This story was a collaboration among The McClatchy Company's five California newspapers. Contributing reporting were: Brad Branan, Fresno Bee; Ken Carlson, Modesto Bee; Bob Cuddy, San Luis Obispo Tribune; Danielle E. Gaines, Merced Sun-Star; and Phillip Reese, The Sacramento Bee. Reese, who did the data analysis and wrote the main story, also watched hours of video recordings of local government meetings where pensions were discussed.
Reese pulled data from the most recent available actuarial valuation reports for pension plans of most of the state's 40 largest cities and 40 largest counties. In almost all cases, these reports covered fiscal years 2009 or 2008. In a few cases, data came from a local government's comprehensive annual financial report.
Cities and counties included in the analysis were selected based on U.S. census and CalPERS data about the size of their work force. Every household's share of local government pension debt was determined by adding unfunded liabilities and bond debt at the 40 largest city governments and the 40 largest counties, then dividing them by the number of households.