105 Santa Monica city workers cleared over $300,000 last year

CBS Los Angeles did a report on Santa Monica’s extroardinarly high compensation packages, using TransparentCalifornia.com data.

The TV segment can be viewed here.

Given the time constraints, the segment could only cover a fraction of the excess. Here are some additional examples:

Santa Monica tops statewide list for a variety of jobs:

The current city manager — hired during the 2015 year — makes a $340,000 base salary, which will easily place him in the top 3 next year, when there is a full year’s compensation package (I estimate it will be around $450,000 when benefits are included) to report.

Two more anecdotal examples:

  1. Farmers’ Market Supervisor: $142,903.
  2. Assistant City Librarian: $220,558.

This excess is pervasive throughout the city, with Santa Monica outspending its peers in total department wide spending as well:

Spending on attorneys (includes assistants and deputy city attorneys)

  • Long Beach: $4.75 million for 28 attorneys at an average cost of $170,000.
  • Anaheim: $4.45 million for 24 attorneys at an average cost of $185,000.
  • Santa Monica: $7.55 million for 29 attorneys at an average cost of: $260,417.

In total, Santa Monica spends 59% and 70% more on attorneys than their much larger neighboring cities.

Perhaps most compelling is what Santa Monica spends on transit, which is the city’s largest department both in raw dollar terms and number of workers — with bus drivers accounting for more than 13% of the city’s entire workforce.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median city transit bus driver in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale metropolitan area earns a wage of around $39,000. The median Santa Monica bus driver makes $59,000 in regular pay — which excludes overtime, other pay and benefits.

This disparity is then amplified via overtime and retirement benefits based on a regular salary that is already 50% higher than the market wage for other city transit bus drivers in the Los Angeles area.

Adding benefits, overtime and other pay increases the compensation package for the median Santa Monica bus driver to $111,585 — with the highest earning just under $168,000.

Finally, at $3,200 per resident, Santa Monica is tied with Beverly Hills for spending more on employee compensation than any other city in California.

Fairness

Santa Monica’s city manager defends this pay as a matter of “fairness” based on speculation that TV news anchors might make even more.

But this misses the point: government is spending other people’s money. Everyone would love to see all bus drivers earn over $100,000, but it’s the definition of unfairness to take money from those earning much less to fund lavish pay and benefits for a select few.

The impact

Santa Monica’s roughly $300 million in employee compensation accounts for 72% of the entire General Fund operating budget. This goes a long way to explaining why Santa Monica has some of the highest taxes in the nation, such as:

  • 10.25% sales tax
  • 10% utility tax
  • 14% hotel tax
  • 10% parking tax

Consequently, when the next funding need comes up — be it paving roads, bailing out pensions in the event of a market downturn, etc. — the City will likely have to hike their already record high taxes yet again.

But when that tax hike comes, taxpayers have a right to know its true cause:

Santa Monica’s General Operating Fund, FY16piechart