Outcry over firefighters making up to $400,000 – Despite ever-tightening budgets, hefty paydays are actually becoming the norm for a lot of firefighters

Mar 4, 2017

SAN RAMON, Calif. — Despite ever-tightening budgets, hefty paydays are actually becoming the norm for a lot of firefighters.

In 2015, some firefighters with the San Ramon Valley Fire District were making as much as $400,000 a year in total compensation, CBS San Francisco reports. More than half of the full-time employees at the department make more than $300,000 in total compensation a year, according to data collected by the watchdog group Transparent California.

“Does it make sense that a battalion chief in San Ramon should earn $300,000 when our governor only earns $180,000 a year in compensation?” said Jack Weir, president of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association.

But one department said that paying out a lot of overtime is actually saving taxpayers money.

San Ramon Valley Fire Chief Paige Meyer says the $300,000 figure doesn’t tell the whole story. That number includes pension and benefits, so in reality, he says, firefighters take home about half of their total compensation.

“So, if someone makes $1, we ending up close to spending 90 cents for their pension, so that’s $1.90, roughly,” Meyer said. “And then we also have the costs of healthcare.”

Meyer said pension and healthcare obligations can mean it’s cheaper to pay a firefighter overtime instead of hiring someone new and adding an extra set of benefits costs.

“Saving can be upwards of 25 to 30 percent,” Meyer said.

Firefighters are guaranteed about 70 percent of their income after retirement in their 50s. In San Ramon, firefighters contribute close to 25 percent of their income to their pension.

Weir believes the system won’t work in the long run.

“It’s unreasonable, it’s unaffordable and most importantly, from a taxpayer’s perspective and from the perspective of the firefighters, it’s unsustainable,” Weir said.

But Meyer says San Ramon is an example of a fire district doing things right.

“We have a very sustainable system,” Meyer said. “We’re paying all of our unfunded liabilities. We’re actually one of the only agencies that I know of in the United States that pays extra money toward our unfunded liabilities in retired, medical and pension costs.”

Meyer also says a starting firefighter in San Ramon would make about $90,000 in salary alone.

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California pension funds are billions short, with taxpayers on the hook

A decade ago, many of California’s public pension plans had plenty of money to pay for workers’ retirements.

All that has changed, according to a far-reaching package of data from the state controller. Taxpayers are now on the hook for billions of dollars more to cover the future retirements of public workers, with the bill widely varying depending on where they live.

The City of Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension System, for instance, had more than enough funds in 2003 to cover its estimated future bill for workers’ retirement checks. A decade later, it is short $3 billion.

The state’s pension goliath, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, had $281 billion to cover the benefits promised to 1.3 million workers and retirees in 2013. Yet it needed an additional $57 billion to meet future obligations.
Somebody, who is knowledgeable and interested, is several clicks away from the ugly mess that will define California’s financial future. – Dan Pellissier, president of California Pension Reform

The bill at the state teachers’ pension fund is even higher: It has an estimated shortfall of $70 billion.

The new data from a website created by state Controller John Chiang come at a time of growing anger from taxpayers over the skyrocketing cost of public workers’ retirements.

Until now, the bill for those government pensions was buried deep in the funds’ financial reports. By making this data available, Chiang is bound to stir debate about how taxpayers can afford to make retirement more comfortable for public workers when private-sector employees’ own financial futures have become less secure. For most non-government workers, fixed monthly pensions are increasingly rare.

“Somebody, who is knowledgeable and interested, is several clicks away from the ugly mess that will define California’s financial future,” said Dan Pellissier, president of California Pension Reform, a Sacramento-area group seeking to stem rising statewide retirement costs.

Chiang has assembled reams of data from 130 public pension plans run by the state, cities and other government agencies. It’s now accessible at his website, ByTheNumbers.sco.ca.gov.

In nearly eight years as controller, essentially the state’s paymaster, Chiang has made good on a commitment to make government financial records more transparent and accessible.

Chiang, who was elected last week as state treasurer, also has made it easy for consumers to search unclaimed property held by the state, such as utility deposits or forgotten bank savings accounts.

In 2010, after the city of Bell salary scandal, he started putting pay information online for elected officials and other employees in cities, counties, special government districts, higher education, schools and the judicial system. In September, he added details on the finances of the state’s 58 counties and more than 450 cities, allowing taxpayers to track revenues, expenditures, liabilities, assets and fund balances.

The pension debate in recent years has been fueled by controversy.

Vernon’s former city manager, for example, was receiving more than $500,000 in annual pension payments. Most public safety workers can retire as early as 50. And some public employees had cashed out unused vacation and other perks to unjustly spike their retirement pay.

Meanwhile, cash-strapped cities are facing escalating bills. Rising pension costs contributed to bankruptcies in Stockton, San Bernardino and Vallejo.

Critics contend that governments can no longer afford to pay generous pensions to retirees that aren’t available to most private-sector workers. Unions, meanwhile, have vehemently defended the status quo, saying these benefits were promised to workers for years of serving the public.

“In the months ahead, California and its local communities will continue to wrestle with how to responsibly manage the unfunded liabilities associated with providing retirement security to police, firefighters, teachers and other providers of public services,” Chiang said.

“Those debates and the actions that flow from them ought to be informed by reliable data that is free of political spin or ideological bias,” said Chiang.

A million items of new pension information online — covering the fiscal years 2002-03 through 2012-13 — should “empower greater citizen participation in how government handles a policy matter which is central to California’s long-term prosperity,” Chiang said.

Though pension lingo can be daunting, the online information being offered includes a range of easy-to-understand and more complicated data. There is even a glossary of terms to help.

Relatively proficient computer users, researchers and statisticians can use the data to compare different city and county pension systems.

The funds range from the giant California Public Employees’ Retirement System to a tiny fund for the city of Pittsburg in the San Francisco Bay Area, with only about $9,000 in assets.

In introducing his new website, Chiang pointed to trends that highlight the state’s growing pension costs. Employer retirement contributions rose 36% between 2003 and 2013, while employee contributions jumped 57%.

At the same time, the number of active government workers and retirees receiving pensions rose by 10% to 3.4 million.

Labor union leaders don’t share Pellissier’s dire forecast, but some praised Chiang for his transparency.

“It adds some facts to the discussion,” said Laphonza Butler, president of the California Council of the Service Employees International Union. “I think that can be helpful.”

Terry Francke, the general counsel of Californians Aware, a Sacramento-area group that supports open government, agreed. He praised Chiang’s initiatives as “a stellar model” for getting information to the public “in the most direct and painless way.”



Shots Fired – SWAT Teams – Helicopters Landing – Police Dogs – Armored Vehicles – School Lockdowns – Road Closures TV News – Overtime – and One Boy Burglar

April 10, 2014

Tustin, California –

Shots were fired when a police officer confronted a man reportedly seen walking with a sawed-off shotgun near an apartment complex Thursday morning, officials said, prompting a “soft lockdown” of 10 nearby schools for more than four hours.

The man fled from officers after the shooting, officials said, sparking a search through several nearby apartment buildings. He was taken into custody before 2 p.m., uninjured, said Sgt. Andrew Birozy of the Tustin Police Department. The school lockdown was lifted after the man was taken into custody.

He was identified as Henry Justin Herrera, a 20-year-old Tustin resident. He was taken into custody after a resident reported seeing him in the area, Police Chief Charles Celano said. Officers responded and ordered Herrera to get on the ground.

No weapon has been recovered, Celano said.

The shooting was reported near Nisson Road and Red Hill Avenue, a busy area surrounded by shops, homes and apartment buildings. It was not clear who fired, and police did not immediately disclose other details of the shooting.

“This is a very populated area,” said Celano said. “We have businesses and children walking around.”

No officers were hurt, Birozy said.

Herrera was taken into custody on suspicion of brandishing a weapon. According to court records, he was arrested earlier this year on burglary charges, pleaded guilty to the charges in February and was sentenced to 60 days in jail.

The shooting occurred about 9 a.m., after witnesses reported seeing an armed man in the area, Birozy said. Officers saw the man running toward an area of two-story apartment buildings in the 1600 block of Nisson Road.

Tustin officers set up a perimeter and shut down Red Hill from Nisson to Mitchell Avenue as they searched for the man, Birozy said. By noon, Red Hill was open to traffic. Nisson Road remained shut down from Red Hill to Browning Avenue until 2 p.m.

Police searched multiple apartment buildings in the 1600 block of Nisson Road.

Harry Flores, a resident in the apartment buildings where police were searching, said he heard several pops Thursday morning but did not think they were gunshots. He left to run errands and returned to find heavily armed officers canvassing his neighborhood and helicopters overhead.

His wife and son were still in the building, he said. They told him they could hear officers yelling in the area, asking someone to surrender to officers.

Neighboring law-enforcement agencies were called to assist in the search, Birozy said, including Irvine police and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Seven schools in the Tustin Unified School School District were placed on a “soft lockdown” as a precaution, said Mark Eliot, spokesman for the district. Students were asked to remain in classrooms, and outdoor activity was being limited.

After the soft lockdown was lifted, kids were released as normal after school. Sports activities continued as planned. The district sent out a phone and email message to parents letting them know what happened and that it was all clear. The schools locked down in the Tustin district were Lambert Elementary, Tustin High, Beswick Elementary, Veeh Elementary, Nelson Elementary, Utt Middle School and Currie Middle School.

St. Cecilia Catholic school and Calvary Christian School, both of which have preschool through eighth grade, were also locked down, officials with the schools said. Edgewood PrePrimary Academy, which has preprimary to kindergarten students, was also on lockdown, a school officials said.

Red Hill Lutheran School, kindergarten through eight grade, was not on lockdown, but outside activities were stopped as a precaution.

“There was never any threat to the schools, but some schools in the immediate area were put on soft lockdown,” Eliot said. “We’re thankful our school staff as well as police department for handling the situation safely and effectively.”

Contact the writer: 714-704-3788 or shernandez@ocregister.com


Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) pointed to Ferguson, denouncing what Holder referred to this week as “unnecessarily extreme displays of force” by police.

The image of Ferguson, Mo., police officers in camouflage pointing high-caliber rifles from armored vehicles at unarmed protesters has crystallized a debate over whether a decades-long flow of military-grade equipment to the nation’s police departments has gone too far.

On both left and right, political figures as varied as Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) pointed to Ferguson, denouncing what Holder referred to this week as “unnecessarily extreme displays of force” by police.

That debate fits into a larger pattern: A huge upsurge of mayhem in the 1970s and 1980s led to tough-on-crime measures across the country. Now, after two decades of improvements in most places, policies such as long, mandatory prison sentences and expansions of police surveillance are being questioned.

The use of military-style equipment by even small-town police departments is the latest tactic to come under scrutiny.