SDCERS was established by the City of San Diego in 1927 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.

SDCERS administers its defined benefit retirement plan 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, and the San Diego Municipal Code Sections 24.0100 et seq.

SDCERS provides a comprehensive range of member services to its nearly 20,000 active, retired and deferred members, including the administration of retirement, health, disability and death benefits.

SDCERS provides vested members with 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.