Why San Francisco Is In Trouble: 19,000 Highly Compensated City Employees Earned Over $150,000

Submitted by Adam Andrzejewski, originally published in Forbes,

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to wonders of the modern world like the Golden Gate Bridge and Silicon Valley — as well as powerful progressive politicians like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Governor Gavin Newsom, and U.S. Senator (and vice-presidential hopeful) Kamala Harris.

But the city is in trouble. Whenever we open the books, San Francisco consistently ranks among the worst tax-and-spend offenders.

In fact, the city’s $1.5 billion budget deficit isn’t stopping 18,759 highly compensated employees from each bringing home pay packages worth $150,000 (or more) annually.

We found truck drivers loaded up with $262,898; city painters making $270,190; firefighters earning $316,306; and plumbing supervisors cleaning up $348,291 every year. One deputy sheriff earned $574,595 last year – including $315,896 in overtime.

On average, the city’s 44,526 employees received pay and perks costing taxpayers $131,335 apiece. Four out of ten – 18,749 city workers – received a compensation package exceeding $150,000 per year.

The pay package includes retirement, health, overtime, pension, and other benefits on top of base salary.

Mayor’s Office – San Francisco Mayor London Breed cost taxpayers $452,421 – the highest paid mayor in the country. Breed enjoys a $342,974 salary and an additional $109,447 in benefit perks. Incredibly, there are another thirty-one staffers in her office with total comp exceeding $200,000 annually.

Police and Sheriff departments– The combined 4,418 employees of the city’s law enforcement agencies cost taxpayers $831 million in compensation last year for an average cost of over $188,000 per person. The police are called “peace officers.”

Because San Francisco is both a city and a county, it has both a sheriff and police department. Sheriff deputies run the jails, enforce civil judgements, and provide security for court cases, while the police patrol the city.

Police Chief William Scott earned $434,613 ($338,482 salary and $96,131 benefits). Four assistant chiefs (police and management) received between $346,528 and $445,539. Then, there were 195 employees with pay and perks exceeding $300,000 each.

Matt Dorsey, the director of strategic communications, responded to our comment request by saying that successful implementation of recent reforms was costly.

Sheriff Paul Miyamoto made $357,570 in total compensation. Overall, the sheriff paid out $100,000+ in overtime pay to fifty employees including $315,896 in overtime to a senior deputy sheriff with total comp of $574,595.

The sheriff responded to our request for comment through Nancy Hayden Crowley, director of communications: “My department continues to work on creative solutions to meet our staffing minimums and the public safety challenges that we all face on a reduced budget.”

Overall, the two departments employed 3,775 people – or roughly 8.5 out of every ten employees – with comp packages that exceeded $100,000.

Fire Department – The Fire Department had two chiefs last year. Outgoing Chief Joanne Hayes-White retired on a $311,560 annual pension and Chief Jeanine Nicholson replaced her in May 2019.

Last year, Hayes-White received $386,727 and Nicholson received $442,722 in total compensation. However, cash compensation alone is not the full story. The department maintains a $2 million four-bedroom landmark home as the chief’s residence.

A fire prevention lieutenant made $415,111 – more than double their $184,791 base salary with a whopping $230,320 in overtime. Fifteen employees received over $100,000 in overtime pay alone.

Only 389 of the 1,559 Fire employees didn’t bring home a six-figure comp package last year.

Public Works – Cases of human waste on San Francisco streets spiked to 31,000 in 2019 – an all-time high. The agency in charge of cleaning up the mess has a quarter-billion-dollar budget ($224 million) earmarked for personnel costs alone.

Public works employs a staff of 1,790, including truck drivers ($218,495), arborists ($206,107), and general laborers ($188,975). Team members on the self-styled “poop patrol” cost taxpayers up to $184,000 each.

San Francisco’s self-titled “Mr. Clean,” Mohammed Nuru, Public Works Director, is best known for failed efforts to keep feces and hypodermic needles out of the public way.

In 2019, Nuru earned $380,120 in total compensation and his base salary alone spiked $65,000 over eight years. It wasn’t enough, apparently. In February 2020, the FBI arrested Nuru in an alleged porta-potty scandal.

Homeless Services & Supportive Housing – In 2016, the city added a new agency to serve its homeless residents. By 2019, the department had 148 employees, and 53 of them made more than $100,000.

The director, Jeff Kosinsky, brought home up to $238,182 annually, but each year the city’s homeless population continued to grow. The population rose to 8,000 this year (up 17-percent), and complaints of human waste on city streets spiked from 18,246 (2016) to 31,000 (2019).

Incredibly, the department can still claim a “good” job in comparison to other California cities: in Oakland, the homeless population nearly doubled during the same period.

Department on the Status of Women (DOSW) – The DOSW strives to “make San Francisco the best place for women and gender expansive persons to live, work, and learn in the United States.” 

The agency tackles projects such as how many public spaces are named after women. Total compensation for DOSW’s six full-time paid staff was $1 million in 2019.

Our auditors also found, however, that DOSW saves money on its mostly-female cadre of ‘policy fellows.’ These interns are paid $20/hour while other San Fran government internships in civil engineering, surveying, and similar roles pay $29.50/hour.

War Memorial Opera House – This opera house employs twenty-five staffers (out of 120) with six-figure salaries, including a patrol officer bringing in $164,399 in total compensation. While the summer and fall performance seasons cancelled or moved online, our auditors could find no reports of layoffs or even pay reductions.

Asian Art Museum – This museum cost city taxpayers $7.8 million in employee compensation last year and is not open to visitors this year.

In 2019 Director Jay Xu made $302,145 in total compensation including a salary ($220,563) and benefits ($81,582). Other high-earners included the deputy director ($248,463), a maintenance superintendent ($200,802), a curator ($200,046), and a librarian ($174,355).

San Francisco’s long-term financial situation looks bleak.

The city has guaranteed $8.1 billion in pension and retiree healthcare that hasn’t been funded. Each city resident owes $9,000 just to cover the unfunded liability, according to data provided by fiscal accountability organization Truth In Accounting (2018).

While the city struggles to balance its books in light of remarkable economic and social upheaval, the unions are not cooperating. Representing San Francisco’s 44,525 city employees, organized labor aggressively hit back against a recent proposal to pause pay hikes.

San Francisco is a progressive utopia, so well-meaning fiscal hawks are going to have to cry a lot louder – or they won’t even have a voice at the table.