Isabel C. Safie


Tel: (951) 826-8309


At a Glance

Isabel advises clients on employee benefit programs, retirement programs and welfare benefit plans.

Her tax work primarily focuses on compliance with laws applicable to pension and health and welfare plans, tax-exempt entities and employment, income and excise taxes.

She serves on the board of directors for a nonprofit organization that helps talented, under-served students access top universities.


Best Best & Krieger LLP Partner Isabel Safie is a versatile attorney, whose practice focuses on employee benefits, including issues related to pensions and other post-employment benefits, as well as tax, with a focus on employment, income and excise taxes, and tax-exempt entities.

Employee Benefits
Isabel regularly counsels public and private sector clients on the design of employee benefit programs and issues presented by the retirement programs and welfare benefit plans they establish and maintain for their employees. She counsels clients on applicable tax requirements as well as fiduciary obligations under ERISA and state and local pension laws.

Isabel also works with public employers to identify their options, to modify or reduce the costs of pension and retiree health benefits under California’s “vested rights” doctrine. She works closely with CalPERS member agencies on a variety of issues, including helping them to understand the distinction between a common law employee and an independent contractor, and to comply with the rules on employing CalPERS retirees under PEPRA and the Public Employees’ Retirement Law. In addition, Isabel has substantial experience in designing tax-favored funding vehicles for post-retirement benefits and health benefits, such as Section 115 trusts, VEBAs, Section 125 cafeteria plans and health reimbursement arrangements for both private and public employers.

She has followed the trajectory of the Affordable Care Act since its adoption in 2010 and has counseled public and private clients on compliance with the various elements of the ACA that apply to employers. This experience has placed her in a position to guide her clients through the uncertainty that has been created around the ACA through the efforts to repeal and replace, or otherwise undermine, the ACA.

Tax Compliance
Isabel’s tax work primarily focuses on issues relating to compliance with federal, state and local laws applicable to pension and health and welfare plans, tax-exempt entities and employment, income and excise taxes.

Isabel regularly works with employers to navigate the often complicated and time consuming audits performed by the IRS, Employment Development Department, Board of Equalization and CalPERS. Her long-standing relationships with representatives of those agencies has proven fruitful for her clients. Her experience covers a vast array of tax compliance areas including pension and health and welfare plans, employment, income and excise taxes, and tax-exempt organizations. In particular, her familiarity with the Public Employees’ Retirement Law and CalPERS procedures has allowed her to work closely with CalPERS contracting agencies to conduct internal audits to minimize adverse findings from CalPERS.

Aside from the design and qualification issues associated with pension and health and welfare benefits, there are a variety of tax implications associated with these employee benefits. Isabel is well versed on the application of, and exemption from, the constructive receipt and assignment of income doctrines that can result in substantial liabilities. She understands the elements that must be present to distinguish between nontaxable, pre-tax, tax-deferred and taxable benefits and can guide clients to outcomes that avoid unintended tax liabilities.

Her experience in the tax-exempt area includes providing advice and assistance regarding the formation and exemption of nonprofits, governance issues, conflict of interest matters and charitable giving. She also provides general corporate counsel to tax-exempt entities, whether it be related to local, state or federal tax issues, or general corporate work including drafting or reviewing governance documents, employment agreements and conflict of interest policies.

Isabel serves on the board of directors for Quest Scholars Program, a nonprofit organization working to ensure that the nation’s most talented under-served students have access to the top universities in the United States. She is a member of the Riverside County Bar Association, the San Bernardino County Bar Association and the American Bar Association. Isabel is a graduate of Leadership Riverside. She is fluent in Spanish.


  • University of California, Los Angeles, J.D.
  • Stanford University, B.A.


  • California
Legal Alerts Jan 05, 2021

New Public Agency Laws on Safety, Finance, Contracting and More

Part 1: New Laws Impacting California Public Agencies for 2021

Legal Alerts Aug 04, 2020

California Supreme Court Finds Modifications to CERL Constitutional, But Leaves “California Rule” Intact

AB 340 Modifications to CERL Are Permissible Under the California Rule

Legal Alerts Mar 23, 2020

California Governor Issues New COVID-19 Executive Order Impacting Local Government

Addresses Open Meetings, Delivery Ordinances, Working After Retirement and Government Claim Deadlines During Coronavirus Pandemic

Legal Alerts Jun 05, 2019

CalPERS Board Decision on Contract Workers Will Not Become Precedential. Now What?

Contract Workers May Still Be Reclassified as Employees by CalPERS

Legal Alerts Mar 07, 2019

California Supreme Court Decides Cal Fire Narrowly

Option to Purchase Airtime is Not a Vested Right

Legal Alerts Oct 02, 2018

CalPERS Employers Dodge a Bullet

SB 1124 Would Have Imposed Statutory Liability for Errors in CalPERS Reporting

Authored Articles & Publications Aug 16, 2018

70 Years of Pension Precedent Could Soon Be Weakened by the California Supreme Court

Isabel Safie Provides Insight Into Lawsuits That May Have Significant Implications for Public Agencies Facing High Pension Costs in PublicCEO

Legal Alerts Feb 06, 2018

Gov. Brown’s Executive Order Suspends Certain Retired Annuitant Employment Requirements

Modifications Needed for Disaster Response Staffing Levels

Legal Alerts Feb 01, 2018

CalPERS Employers are Now Subject to Two New Penalties

New Laws Change Out-of-Class Appointments Requirements and Impose New Penalties in Connection with Retired Annuitant Employment

Authored Articles & Publications Nov 16, 2017

The Art of Reduction: OPEB Costs, Commitments

By Isabel C. Safie

Authored Articles & Publications Jan 09, 2017

Best in Law: New Law Enables Small Employers to Resume Health Reimbursement Arrangements

HRAs Eliminated Under ACA, Attorneys Isabel Safie and Katrina Veldkamp Explain in Press-Enterprise

Legal Alerts Dec 19, 2016

21st Century Cures Act Permits Standalone HRAs for Small Employers

Takes Effect in 2017

  • “Right to Purchase ‘Airtime’ is Not a Vested Right,” Daily Journal, March 7, 2019
  • "It Could be a While Before We Get a Vested Pension Rights Answers," Daily Journal, Jan. 22, 2018
  • “A Right to Future (Reasonable) Pension Benefits,” Daily Journal, Aug. 31, 2016
  • “King v. Burwell: The Supreme Court Prevents Millions of People from Losing Health Insurance,” BBKnowledge, July 9, 2015
  • “CalPERS’ Concern With Detroit Bankruptcy is Misplaced,” Daily Journal, May 22, 2014
  • “Play-or-Pay Reprieve for Some Employers,” Riverside Press-Enterprise, March 23, 2014
  • “Bankrupt San Bernardino is Tackling Pension Obligations Head-On,” BBKnowledge, Feb. 21, 2014
  • “MyRA Will Offer Retirement Accounts to Employees Without Access Through Employers,” BBKnowledge, Feb. 6, 2014

Contact Isabel C. Safie

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