SANTA MONICA (CBSLA.com) — The city of Santa Monica is known for breathtaking views and eye-popping sunsets.
But as CBS2’s Cristy Fajardo reports, its public servants also have some jaw-dropping paychecks.
Some of city’s pay packages have more than 100 city workers raking in close to $300,000 each in total compensation.
According to government watchdog group Transparent California, Santa Monica had 105 staffers pulling in more than $300,000 in pay, benefits and other perks in 2015.
Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks is the highest-paid city employee with a compensation package totaling nearly $480,000. But public records put her base salary at $306,000.
Compare that to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, whose base salary is $344,000. Beck oversees a force of more than 9,000 sworn officers.
Santa Monica, by comparison, has a little more than 200 officers.
“I think their compensations are comparable to their responsibilities of their jobs,” City Manager Rick Cole said.
But is her job as tough as Charlie Beck?
“Charlie Beck has a tough job, but Santa Monica is a challenging place, and we aim to be the best,”Cole said.
But it’s the second-highest grossing employee in Santa Monica that troubles Robert Fellner with Transparent California.
“They’ve given the farm away,” said Fellner.
A police sergeant CBS2 has chosen not to identify by name raked in $475,000 in total compensation last year. His base pay was $137,000, but he was paid about $179,000 in overtime. Unused sick and vacation time accounts for the rest.
Some of his colleagues, including police lieutenants, sergeants, fire captains, even a marshal, also piled up five to six figures in overtime pay.
The city manager chalked up the overtime to unfilled positions and said 18 new firefighters are currently in the academy. The Police Department also has 18 openings.
“It depends on the kind of duty,” Cole said. “There’s a difference of someone being on patrol for 77 hours of overtime, which is something we would never do, or someone being on a movie shoot as overtime.”
Still, Fellner questions why with such high salaries Santa Monica has trouble filling vacancies. He wonders if so much overtime is even humanly possibly and would like to see the city audited.
“Ultimately, that’s all being borne by the taxpayer,” Fellner said. “They have the right to know the full scale and scope of that.”
He’s not alone.
“I can’t afford to live in my own apartment, and this is what the city is doing paying themselves all these wages,” said one resident. “It’s because this is not their money.”
But other taxpayers say city workers should be able to afford to live in the communities they serve.
“It’s a pretty safe place, it’s a great community,” another resident said. “There’s always stuff that can be improved but overall the citizens are happy.”
Santa Monica also has some of the highest taxes, and they are about to get higher. The county registrar is still counting votes but says Santa Monica is on track to pass a half-cent sales tax increase. The money is supposed to go to city projects, but it’s clear the city is spending much of its budget on pay.
So how do other cities fare? Newport Beach, with roughly the same population as Santa Monica, had 13 employees making more than $300,000 in total compensation. As did Long Beach, which has a population about five times that of Santa Monica.