SDCERS was established by the City of San Diego on November 29,1926 to administer retirement benefits for its members. In 1963, the San Diego Unified Port District contracted with SDCERS to administer its employee retirement benefits, followed by the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority in 2003.

As of April 1, 2005, the SDCERS Board of Administration's composition changed such that the majority of SDCERS' Board Members are not members of the system itself - meaning they do not have a vested interest in any SDCERS benefits. Instead, 7 of the 13 Board Members are appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council. The remaining Board Members consist of one elected Active Fire Safety Member, one elected Active Police Safety Member, two elected Active General Members, one elected Retired Member, and one City Management Employee appointed by the Mayor. 

The SDCERS Board of Administration adopted a Declaration of Group Trust, effective July 1, 2007. Under the Group Trust, the City, Port, and Airport Authority's plans are treated as separate plans, with assets of each sponsor's plan pooled for investment purposes only.

SDCERS administers its three plan sponsors' individual defined benefit retirement plans in accordance with the California State Constitution Article XVI, Section 17; the San Diego City Charter Article IX Sections 141—148.1 and Article X, Section 1; the San Diego Municipal Code Sections 24.0100 et seq.; the “Amended and Restated San Diego Unified Port District Retirement Plan and Trust” and subsequent amendments; the “Amended and Restated San Diego County Regional Airport Authority Retirement Plan and Trust of 2013” and subsequent amendments; and the SDCERS Board Charters, Policies, and Rules. You can view SDCERS' governing documents on this page.

SDCERS provides a comprehensive range of member services to its nearly 25,000 active, retired, and deferred members and their beneficiaries, including the administration of retirement, disability, and death benefits, as well as certain City retiree health benefits.

SDCERS provides vested members with a lifetime monthly payment equal to a portion of their annual salaries when they retire. In order to attain the appropriate level of funding for each member, the plan specifies a formula to calculate the amount the participating employer and members must contribute each year until retirement.