Full-career San Diego-area city retirees earn 59% more than residents’ average salary

San Diego County’s full-career municipal retirees received an average $84,145 CalPERS pension last year, according to just-released 2014 pension payout data from TransparentCalifornia.com.

The over 600,000 records — obtained through a series of public records requests to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) ­— reveals that the cities of Carlsbad and Chula Vista are among the top ten agencies with the highest average CalPERS non-safety pensions statewide, at $102,437 and $93,971, respectively.

By contrast, the average full-time worker in the San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos area earned $53,020 last year, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

“Average full-career pensions that significantly exceed the wages of most full-time workers shatters the myth that CalPERS only provides a modest level of retirement income,” said Robert Fellner, research director for Transparent California.

Fellner noted that the atypically large pensions for miscellaneous retirees — which includes all non-safety employees — of cities in San Diego County were due to their use of a rare, but extremely generous benefit formula known as “3% @ 60.” The formula allows for a pension worth 120 percent of an employee’s highest salary after 40 years of service if retiring at age 60 or later.

In total, 68 San Diego-area miscellaneous retirees received a base pension, which excludes subsequent cost of living increases, worth at least 100 percent of their highest salary.

The 3 largest CalPERS payouts to San Diego-area retirees went to:

  1. William Garrett, former El Cajon City manager: $299,281,
  2. Vincent-Peer Hubner of Encinitas City: $264,555, and
  3. Paul C Malone, former San Marcos City manager: $237,922.

Such exorbitant benefits are the reason pension contributions are skyrocketing, Fellner said.

“Retirement costs are directly related to the generosity of the benefits promised, and unfortunately, taxpayers are now being required to pay an equally exorbitant sum to help fund them.”

Average full-career CalPERS pensions for San Diego cities

Fellner noted that the median contribution rate for the 6 largest cities in San Diego County — 28 percent for miscellaneous and 37 percent for safety employees — is significantly higher than the 6.3 percent that private employers pay for their employees’ retirement benefits, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Fellner warned that, “As high as the current rates are, CalPERS is projecting significant rate hikes over the next few years, which threatens to break already cash-strapped municipalities. What’s worse, weakening market conditions means rates will rise even further than anticipated.”


The 2014 report contained 19,728 recipients with a monthly allowance of $8,333.34 or more — representing an annualized benefit of at least $100,000 — a nearly 35% increase from 2012’s report.

The average pension for full-career miscellaneous and safety CalPERS retirees was $65,148 and $85,724, respectively.

The top three 2014 CalPERS pension payouts went to:

  1. Michael D Johnson, former Solano County administrator: $375,990,
  2. Joaquin Fuster, UCLA retiree: $325,278, and
  3. Donald Gerth, former Cal State at Sacramento president: $305,002.

The top 10 CalPERS agencies with the highest average pensions reveals retirement income that can more than double the earnings of full-time, working residents:

10 largest average full-career non-safety CalPERS pensions by employer

10 largest average full-career safety CalPERS pensions by employer

A full-career for miscellaneous retirees is defined as at least 35 years of service, the minimum required to qualify for Social Security benefits without penalty, while a full-career for safety employees is defined as 30 years or more.

Despite accounting for only 11 percent of service retirees, it is necessary to look at full-career pensions to accurately gauge the system, according to Fellner.

“Just as one assumes a 40-hour work week when comparing salaries, any discussion of pensions implicitly assumes a full-career.

“Furthermore, the disproportionally greater pensions for those who work a full-career reveal an inequity within CalPERS. Part of the generosity of the full-career benefits comes at the expense of partial-career retirees, who receive disproportionally smaller benefits.”

Fellner concluded, “With retirement costs expanding to as much as ten times what private employers are paying, maintaining the status quo is extremely irresponsible. It’s particularly indefensible to force taxpayers to bear the entire cost for the recklessness of union-backed officials who gambled on sky-high investment returns, lost, and now expect taxpayers to bail them out.”

To view the entire dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, visit TransparentCalifornia.com.

To schedule an interview with Transparent California, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

 Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

Categories: 2015, Press Releases

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2 replies »

  1. AWESOME report. And it’s even a bit worse than these figures show.

    A person working has deductions taken out of their paycheck that retirees don’t pay. 7.65% for social security, to start. Then there’s unemployment insurance, pension/401k contributions, union dues (if any), plus a couple other odds and ends. Not to mention the commuting costs.

    Another factor to consider is that most state and county employees qualify for social security (not most city and school district employees). I’m sure that helps keep ’em out of the Dempsey Dumpsters.

    And let’s not forget that quite a number of retired public employees “go out” with a disability designation, which means that up to half their pension is free from federal and state income tax. Depending on circumstances, that exemption cuts one’s income tax bill by 60% o 80%. Sweet!

    Yes, most career CA public sector workers are literally set for life — without putting a dime aside for retirement on their own.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Two other factors to consider for San Diego city employees — why they are “killin’ it” when it comes to goosing the taxpayer.

    Whenever the city pension fund earns more than the projected percentage, the city workers get a “13th check” from the fund — a chunk of the “excess” earnings. Of course, when the fund earns LESS than the projected rate, the workers don’t have to pay a dime more INTO the fund. The door swings only one way.

    FAR more important, San Diego city “general” employees (all but police and firefighters) have for decades received a generous SECOND retirement plan. Called the SPSP plan, it’s a 401k-type plan where the city employees could contribute up to 7.5% of their pay and get a FULL MATCHING contribution by the taxpayers — more generous than 99% of the private sector 401k plans (for those who HAVE such a plan at all).

    While there have been reforms in recent years, the veteran city employees (MOST of the employees) hired before about 2007 are grandfathered, often getting both the defined benefit pension and the defined contribution SPSP plan. According to my calculations, it’s quite feasible for such employees to get retirement checks totaling up to 130% for their highest pay. And that’s not counting the “13th check” windfall.

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