It’s a great town when the lifeguards make up to $211,912 in compensation with multi-million dollar lifetime pension payouts. Secretaries to the city bosses make nearly $100,000, refuse workers make three times the national median wage, and 31 city employees out-earn every governor of the fifty states.
We all missed the memo in high school – that job posting for the City of Newport Beach, California. If we had only known, many of us would have packed our bags and headed west for wealth and fortune on the California beach – as a lifeguard.
The lifeguards of Newport Beach have garnered Hollywood fame, pay exceeding six figures, and multi-million dollar (90 percent of salary) lifetime pensions kicking in as early as 50. It seems akin to winning the lottery against the pristine backdrop of bikinis, beautiful sunsets, and the Pacific Ocean sands. Their union negotiated perks include $400 per year in sunscreen allowance.
In 2007, the FOX prime-time hit program The O.C. frequently showcased the Newport Beach lifeguards.
But local and national debate raging over the compensation and benefits of these lifeguard ‘captains and officers’ changed in the summer of 2014. That’s when a veteran Newport Beach lifeguard with fifteen years of experience drowned in ten to twelve foot surf while saving a distressed swimmer. It was a tragic event and the first lifeguard drowning in the one hundred year history of the beach.
In this May 15, 2011 photo, lifeguard captain Arn Van Dyk, left, directs lifeguard trainees in a swimmer-rescue drill during a training session for new seasonal lifeguards at Newport Beach, Calif. Newport Beach’s 13-member, full-time lifeguard crew has gotten skeptical reactions ever since the local newspaper editorialized about lifeguard salaries, benefits and overtime pay that in at least two instances top $200,000 as the city struggles to rein in pension costs. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Locally, in California, the lifeguards are viewed more as first responders and as such are handsomely compensated. In years past, the Orange County Register reported that Newport Beach paid its lifeguards up to $211,000 and $203,000 (2010). Data at OpenTheBooks.com shows in 2013 the “Lifeguard Battalion Chief” made $148,000 and four others earned between $101,000 and $113,500.
But in Newport Beach, it isn’t just lifeguards who are handsomely compensated. It pays its 1,180 employees very, very well.
Newport Beach has an estimated population of 87,000 residents and is the epitome of a wealthy enclave. Average household income exceeds $112,000 per year. The average home price is more than $1 million. As of 2009 it ranked as the eighth most expensive real estate in the country.
According to the data posted at OpenTheBooks.com, the city manager out-earns Gov. Jerry Brown with compensation of $248,891 plus another $63,000 plus in benefit costs – we assume that job doesn’t involve rescuing swimmers in dangerous surf. In 2013, 31 city employees earned more than any governor in the nation – including the Deputy City Manager ($207,658), Municipal Operations Director ($237,351), City Attorney ($241,081), Assistant City Manager ($198,707), Public Works Director ($189,417), and Community Development Director ($189,417), Recreation & Senior Service Director ($180,549), and many other bureaucratic positions.
A fire division chief – one of many ‘fire division chiefs’ – cost taxpayers $263,189.
The pay and perk largess even extends to secretaries and other rank-and-file positions. For example, the ‘executive assistant to the city manager’ makes $95,257. The ‘permit counter supervisor’ costs taxpayers $92,842, while ‘permit technicians’ make $81,180. The ‘Animal control officer’ cost taxpayers $88,165. Senior managers on the ‘street maintenance crew’ make $82,844; ‘grounds workers’ make $79,916; and even ‘refuse’ workers make up to $79,836.
Despite having a $273 million underfunded city pension fund, the city administrators don’t shy away from defending their lavish payroll. In 2011, the city council funded a $165,000 no-bid contract to study the ‘competitiveness’ of Newport Beach salaries vs. twelve other California communities. In 2013, the consultants delivered the verdict.
The results? Newport Beach administrators were, of course, under-compensated. In a city – and nation – that’s underwater, it just may be the ‘first responder’ lifeguards in Newport Beach who are earning their pay.
Note: Adam Andrzejewski is the founder of OpenTheBooks.com containing over 2.3 billion local, state and federal spending transactions. See your local salaries in California or across America in 34,000 communities – download our free ‘Open The Books’ mobile app for Apple and Android.