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Perk City

By Jennifer Welsh-Zeiter

By Jennifer Welsh-Zeiter

If Huntington Beach is Surf City, then Laguna Beach is Perk City.

Kudos to Rita Robinson of the Indy for the news article exposing the home purchase program offered by the city to our new assistant city manager/director of public works. Under this program the city just helped our new assistant city manager buy a $1.6 million home in Laguna as a “signing bonus”, on the premise that “essential” city employees need to live in Laguna in times of serious emergencies (and when exactly was the last time that occurred in Laguna?)

One wonders what would happen if the emergency occurred while the city employee were on vacation or attending a soccer game in Anaheim? Never mind that almost no OC cities offer this perk; of the very few that do, it is only for the city manager. But Laguna is ahead of the perk curve because the city has perked it to about half a dozen employees.

Not only do these city employees receive below market interest rate (around 2% for Dupuis) loans from the city, they don’t have to worry about qualifying with those pesky lenders the rest of us have to deal with.  Plus they get to seriously upgrade. The new assistant city manager’s old house in Anaheim is on the market for just under $600,000. That’s a $1 million upgrade. Plus under the city housing assistance agreement, these perk employees get to keep the house for up to two years after termination of employment, and up to 10 years after retirement or death.

How is this a justifiable use of taxpayer funds when the city is looking to raise taxes and float bonds for things the city apparently can’t afford to pay for within its current budget?

How can an employee who allegedly is “essential” have an option to take this perk or not, as with Steve May, former director of public works. Either it’s required or it’s not.

May, who lives in Huntington Beach, said it wasn’t necessary for him to live in Laguna. Why? Because there is staff and cell phone communication. Bingo, so it’s not really an “essential” requirement, it’s really just another perk of city employment funded by your taxpayer dollars. Or, in other words, it’s the drummed up argument approved by our city council to support a perk that otherwise would be unsupportable.

When did living in Laguna become an entitlement of upper management city employees? It took most of us years of hard work and careful savings to afford a home here. Maybe one can understand the city manager being required to live in the city, maybe, but is anyone else really essential?  As pointed out in the recent article, Newport Beach voters did away with this perk in 2010. It’s atypical of most cities, and it rarely happens in the private sector.  Do we really need to beg people to work in Laguna Beach and buy them a house?

In case you’re wondering here’s a partial list of other perks culled from the “Benefits for Full Time Laguna Beach Management Employees” in a statement provided by finance director Gavin Curran.

Three-day weekends twice a month.

Guaranteed retirement pensions, unmatched in the private sector. The former Laguna Beach city manager pulls in over $238,000 a year in guaranteed pension benefits, an additional six retirees pull in over $140,000 a year, and 21 other retirees pull in over $100,000 year in 2014, the latest figures available at TransparentCalifornia.com, a data base of government salaries and pensions..

Managers are also eligible to receive a 2 percent of base salary contribution to a deferred compensation plan, a $350 a month car allowance, and free shopper parking permits.

Fully paid Cadillac style health, dental, vision insurance plans costing for some over $19,000 per employee per year. The city pays 100% of employee coverage and 90% of dependents, says the benefit statement for management employees.

Median and average earnings exceeding private sector workers. Median pay for full time Laguna Beach city employees is $98,643, and median pay plus benefits is $131,612, based on the 2014 figures from Transparent California.com.

Median earnings for fulltime private workers is only $90,865, which is $8,000 less, says Transparent California.com.

Based on the city’s published FY 2016-2017 budget, salaries and overtime average $112,614, and total salaries plus benefits average $175,057. And those numbers are even higher now, having been superseded by the 2016 mid-year reviews.

Management employees get 17 days of paid vacation a year, and 22 days after nine years. That doesn’t include the 10 paid city holidays. In addition up to 400 hours or 10 weeks of vacation pay can be accrued and cashed out, says the explanation of management benefits provided Curran.

Eighty hours of paid leave a year at 50% of pay, plus unlimited accrual, which can be cashed out and used to spike pensions.

Management employees also get up to 10 days of paid administrative leave a year.

Automatic pay raises: 3.5% in 2016, 3% in 2017, 3% in 2018. No performance required. Typically, management employees receive the same pay raise negotiated under union collective bargaining agreements.

Plus management employees are eligible for bonuses up to 5 percent of base salary, and possibly an additional 5 percent if approved by the city manager.

Is it any wonder that over 500 people applied for a recent entry level position of cashier/clerk? Perk City, where your taxpayer dollars are hard at work, or not.



Local resident Jennifer Welsh Zeiter is president of the Laguna Beach Taxpayers’ Association.

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  1. Keith Vaughn

    Great Job Jennifer Welsh Zeiter !
    Keep up the good work, I’ve reposted your amazing article at the California Pension Reform page on Facebook !

  2. Pingback: Laguna Beach Local News Guest Column - Laguna Beach Local News

  3. Patricia Schaaf

    You need to move to Newport to be with your own selfish kind. You are not Laguna material.
    Please just leave.

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