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City of Santa Monica on Top List of Biggest Public Pensions in California
By Niki Cervantes
August 10, 2017 -- A total of 190 retirees of Santa Monica’s City government are receiving annual public pensions ranging from $100,000 to $250,000, a new analysis of 2016 public pension data statewide by a California watchdog group has found.
Released Tuesday by Transparent California, the findings secured a spot for the City among the top 25 public entities with the highest, and most numerous, six-figure pension payouts from the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS).
The City of Santa Monica placed 11th on the list and was the only Westside city in the top 25.
The only governments with more employees receiving $100,000 or more in payments were much larger than Santa Monica, which has an estimated population of nearly 94,000.
Santa Clara County, with a population of some 1.8 million south of San Francisco, topped the list with 861 pensions of $100,000 or more.
It was followed by Oakland with 523 employees (population 420,000), Riverside County with 469 (nearly 2.4 million) and Long Beach with 360 employees (470,000).
Statewide, at least 52,963 retirees collected pensions of at least $100,000 last year, according to the data, he said.
In Santa Monica, the largest CalPERS annual payout was for former Police Chief Timothy J. Jackman, who received $253,294 in 2016.
Jackman served as the City’s police chief between 2006 and 2012, capping decades in law enforcement spent mostly in the Long Beach Police Department.
Santa Monica pays for benefits earned during an employee’s time in Santa Monica only. Only permanent employees working more than 1,000 hours per year qualify after five years of service.
The City has been criticized for years for its spending on employee salaries, also among the highest of California municipalities; benefits packages and, especially lately, expensive contributions to pension plans ("Santa Monica City Pay and Benefits Climb at Double the Inflation Rate, New Data Shows," May 2, 2017).
City officials say the high saleries are justified by the quality services employees deliver ("Santa Monica Defends High City Salaries as Key to Quality Services," December 6, 2016).
Like public entities statewide, the City is legally required to chip in with taxpayer dollars to fill gaps in pensions through CalPERS.
The problem is the result of both unrealized expectations from investments and generous retirement pacts approved in years when Wall Street -- not public coffers -- could be relied upon to carry most of the weight.
Employees pay into their CalPERS pensions, as do their public employers.
Fellner points out Tuesday’s pension numbers represent a mix of personal and employer contributions -- not the out-of-pocket cost to the City’s budget.
Still, the amount Santa Monica and other public-sector employers in California have had to pitch in has caused considerable budget pain.
The City of Santa Monica -- with a $1.57 billion biennial budget -- is fiscally healthier than many local governments, and has started paying down unfunded pension liabilities (("City Council Approves Record Payment Toward Santa Monica's Unfunded Employee Pensions," June 15, 2017)).
But like the others, the City is also bracing for possible budget deficits in coming years tied partially to its pension obligations.
Among the other former City employees who received $200,000 or more from CalPERS, according to Transparent California:
Former Police Chief James T. Butts, who received an annual retirement payment of $251,419.68 from CalPERS last year. Butts was chief from 1991 to 2006 and then, after a stint with Los Angeles World Airports.
He was elected mayor of Inglewood in 2010, a post he still holds. According to Transparent California, Butts was paid $111,303.00 for that position last year, with $39,525 in benefits.
Philip L. "Lamont" Ewell, who served as city manager for Santa Monica until 2009, received $249,061.92 in retirement payments in 2016. A former Compton firefighter, Ewell was also a San Diego city manager before holding the post in Santa Monica. He then served in Compton as city manager and city administrator until 2011.
Barbara Stinchfield received $229,826.88 last year from CalPERS. She had been Santa Monica's director of community and cultural affairs since 1997 and retired in 2011.
Gordon Anderson, an assistant city manager who retired in 2008, received $222,851 from the retirement agency last year after 31 years of public service.
Former Fire Chief James N. Hone received $210,657 from CalPERS last year. He retired in 2009. Hone, who became chief in 2003, joined the Santa Monica Fire Department in 1980.
Gary F. Gallinot, a retired SMPD veteran and former chief of Santa Monica College’s police department, received $205,122 from CalPERS
Alex Padilla, a former Santa Monica police officer and current member of the Inglewood City Council received $201,658 from CalPERS in 2016.
The largest CalPERS payouts last year went to former Solano County administrator Michael Johnson, who received $390,485; former Los Angeles County Sanitation District GM Stephen Maguin, who received $345,417 and former UCLA professor Joaquin Fuster, who got $345,180.
The average pension for a full-career CalPERS retiree was $66,400, Transparent California said.
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