"The ones who are actually paying the taxes will never see these benefits in their lifetimes, so there's not a lot of sympathy in the public," he said.
The ballot measures differ on specifics. San Diego's Proposition B imposes a six-year freeze on pay levels used to determine pension benefits unless a two-thirds majority of the City Council votes to override it. It also puts new hires, except for police officers, into 401(k)-style plans.
More than 100,000 residents signed petitions to put the San Diego measure on the ballot.
Under San Jose's Measure B, current workers would have to pay up to 16 percent of their salaries to keep their retirement plan or accept more modest benefits. New hires would get less generous benefits.
Mayor Chuck Reed, a Democrat, joined an 8-3 City Council majority to put the measure on the ballot.
"It's my No. 1 priority because it's the biggest problem we face," he said. "It's a problem that threatens to our ability to remain a city and provide services to our people."