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Santa Monica Ranks Third in County for City Employee Compensation Costs, Survey Finds
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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

June 23, 2016 -- Pay and benefits for Santa Monica City employees were the third-highest in Los Angeles County last year, averaging $152,050 annually for the municipality’s full-time workforce, a new survey has found.

Between overtime, other types of pay and benefits, total compensation sometimes doubled and tripled for Santa Monica City employees and their counterparts throughout Los Angeles County, according to the survey by Transparent California, a service provided by the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

First and second on Transparent California’s list were Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach, with average compensation packages of $155,852 and $155,850, respectively.

Beverly Hills was behind Santa Monica, at $150,648, the survey found.

Among the 60 cities included in the survey, the average full-time city worker received $131,600 in total compensation last year.

The survey, which was based on 2015 final payrolls, did not include the City of Los Angeles. By far the biggest city in the county, LA was analyzed in separate studies, including those focusing on soaring overtime pay for firefighters and total compensation that either came close to, or exceeded, $500,000 for port pilots at the Port of Los Angeles.

An analyst for Transparent California said the public sometimes is given the impression that wages account for most of a government employee’s compensation.

That is often not the case, as the survey showed, said Robert Fellner, the organization’s research director.

“While taxpayers may assume salary represents nearly all of an employee’s compensation package, some public employees collect compensation packages worth more than triple their base salary,” Fellner said.

Santa Monica Police Sgt Jaime Hernandez was a case in point, Fellner wrote.

In 2015, Hernandez received $137,204 in annual salary, $179,950 in overtime, $49,108 for other types of compensation and $109,284 in benefits.

His total compensation last year was $475,546 –- only about $2,500 less than total pay and benefits for Police Chief Jaqueline Seabrooks in 2015.

Paying hefty overtime salaries to police officers has been a longstanding practice in Santa Monica, where officers have been known to top the City's salary list ("The Rising Price of Protection," February 6, 2003).

Total compensation is defined as annual salary, overtime and miscellaneous pay as well as benefits, which include employer-paid health, dental and vision insurance and retirement contributions.

Hernandez’s total compensation also put him at the top of the list of 1,000 sergeants throughout California in the database. The second closest was a sergeant in Beverly Hills whose base pay of $151,388 soared to $415,037 when all compensation was added and totaled for 2015.

But several SMPD sergeants were high on the list, taking the fifth highest-compensated spot, with a total of $385,722; the sixth spot, with $380,704; and the eleventh spot, at $363,607, the data base showed.

Most of the rest in the highest slots were taken by San Jose police sergeants.

SMPD Lt. Saul Rodriquez declined to comment. City Manager Rick Cole could not be reached by deadline.

The data also showed 13 Santa Monica City employees collected more than $400,000 in total compensation.

Most were either with the SMPD, including the chief; in the City Attorney’s Office or in upper-tier management positions, such as Assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek, who took over as interim City Manager in February of 2015 before Cole was hired last June.

Among the 13 Santa Monica employees whose total compensation surpassed $400,000, three Santa Monica fire captains saw the biggest increases last year. Each earned base pay of $146,262 but collected compensations totaling $402,799, $407,797 and $424,367, the database shows.

The survey also showed that it was not unusual for the increase in compensation over base salary to double for Santa Monica fire captains in 2015: Seven others did much the same thing, the data indicated.

The City of San Francisco was also high on the same list, although the gap between basic pay and total compensation was typically smaller.

Home to a well-to-do populace and blessed with a biennial budget of about $1 billion, Santa Monica’s municipal workforce of about 2,200 has traditionally earned high salaries.

In fact, six-figure salaries are becoming the norm for City employees, even before other compensation is added to the package ("Proposed Raises Push Many Santa Monica City Employees Well into Six-Figure Salaries," June 14, 2016).

Still, the climb in total compensation also applies to less affluent cities, the survey showed.

Average total compensation for city employees in Downey, a mostly middle-class town of about 113,500 residents, was $150,129 in 2015 -- just a few hundred dollars less than Beverly Hills.

Transparent California collects and analyzes public compensation and other data on government spending. Its data bases are available online at

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