Berkeley city salaries track neighbors closely

State Controller John Chiang

California State Controller John Chiang started releasing data on city and state employee salaries and compensation last fall. His office is steadily adding to the database: last week data for transit, water, hospital and other agencies was added to the publicly available information.

Whenever Berkeleyside writes about city government, it’s a certainty that a number of commenters will remark on high salaries and overstaffing. The State Controller’s database provides a chance to compare how Berkeley does against other cities.

At the top of the scale, Berkeley’s ten highest paid employees are roughly comparable to neighboring Oakland and Richmond:

The total wages includes overtime, bonuses and vacation pay (everything reported in Box 5 of the employee’s W-2 form). Berkeley’s police chief’s salary in 2009 was $220,242 — so there were nearly $150,000 of additional payments to Douglas Hambleton, who retired in 2009. Five of Berkeley’s top 10 are police, compared to eight of the 10 in Oakland. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson recently pointed out that police officers and firefighters comprise 440 of Oakland’s highest paid 500 employees. In Berkeley, police and fire make up 299 of the top 500.

The figures make clear the importance of the current negotiations between city officials and the Berkeley Police Association. What the data doesn’t show, however, is the weight of retirement benefits on the city budget. Unfunded liabilities have been cited by City Manager Phil Kamlarz as the key issue for the city’s finances going forward; police and fire make up a large percentage of those liabilities.

What’s striking looking at the data is how closely Berkeley tracks to comparable cities. Kamlarz’s total wages in 2009 of $245,324 compares to $257,777 for his Richmond equivalent, and $246,936 for his Oakland equivalent. The similarities proliferate in other areas. Berkeley’s director of library services had total wages in 2009 of $179,891; Richmond’s had $161,937 and Oakland’s $177,470. Berkeley’s city attorney had wages of $173,313 in 2009; Richmond’s $171,834. Oakland’s, however, was considerably higher at $211,528.

“We try to stay around the median in total compensation,” explained Kamlarz. “When we do salary negotiations, we do salary surveys of comparable cities in the Bay Area. And not just salaries but total compensation.”

Kamlarz said comparability is important for the city so that it can recruit qualified staff. “We look at those places we compete with for employees,” he said.

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  • Sharkey

    @ Deb — WOW! Overall I don’t agree with the Daily Planet’s stance on the library issue, but that’s some extremely suspicious activity from our elected Councilmembers. If you don’t want to have a public meeting, why pay to rent a public place to hold it? Extremely suspicious, and a definite appearance of impropriety.

    @ sz underwood — I’d like to get rid of the back-scratching porkers feeding at the public trough as much as anybody else. If someone sensible runs for public office in Berkeley I’ll be more than happy to vote, campaign, and volunteer for them. Berkeley needs some Fiscal Responsibility candidates who can discuss the issues without going off the deep end, and who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and compile evidence of the misdeeds or ineffectiveness of the incumbent politicians they’re running against.

  • lifelongberkeleyan

    “…But no amount of carping on Berkeleyside or any other forum will actually make one whit of difference until the ruling junta in Berkeley is tossed out…”

    Start with weakest of the pack.

    The incumbent in District 7 won by 5 votes over the collective opposition.

    The incumbent in District 5 won by 401 votes over the collective opposition.


    80,000 registered voters in Berkeley.

    eight council seat districts = 10,000 voters per race.

    Apropo this current thread: The victorious council member from district seven reported a campaign contribution of $250 from the “Santa Clara Firefighters” on a CA Form 497, dated 10.20.2010, filed 11.18.2101


    corrections encouraged…any factual errors apologized for in advance.

  • George Berkeley

    @lifelongberkeleyan: I couldn’t agree more that there is no hope for change unless/until real pressure is actually applied to City Councilmembers & candidates. However, the prospects are bleak. Even the weakest of the weak you mention — Worthington in D7 — managed to win a campaign against a experienced challenger who was endorsed by everyone (including most of the sitting council) and ran a superb campaign. The experience shows the extreme privilege that incumbents enjoy, and the fact that the “awareness” of the average berkeley voter is painfully easy to overstate.

  • lifelongberkeleyan

    @George Berkeley – Take heart friend…

    The remarkable thing about Berkeley’s governance is not its progressive agenda, or the colorful way it manages to draw attention to itself. It’s how we arrive at the same or worse results as any other town around here…a small random sample:

    – The headline of this story is: “Berkeley city salaries track neighbors closely” really means: “Lemmings neck and neck approaching cliff!”

    – Test scores show our public schools are no better (and some are arguably worse) than other cities around the Bay Area.

    – We’ve have more than our share of empty store fronts despite innovative attempts at social engineering commercial use.

    – The city’s new business and housing architecture is much less interesting than what our architects actually design. Evidence of the heavy hand of our nobel amateur’s, the design review committee.

    – The streets are either breaking up or blockaded with traffic circles (a ‘keep the flow going’ design) at four way stop intersections (an ‘everybody stop’ design). The result is rolling stops, near accidents and someday a fatality caused by the sustainable vegetation blocking sight of the little ones in the crosswalk ahead.

    – Our recycling programs a) send plastics to China where it harms children forced to process it. b) spews bin blight and diesel fumes c) Is no more sustainable than the ice rinks in Dubai.

    Generally, the tax payer’s perception is that we’re paying way too much for way too little. And what little we get, is delivered with a sneer, not a smile.

    It is impossible to shatter the influence of decades of petty patronage and self assigned entitlements without the passion for change. The passion for change is what put the current regime in power nearly forty years ago and the passion for change will eventually repeat that cycle.

    Discontent with the status quo is a start, but hardly enough. We’ve plenty of discontent with political descendants of the original reformers. They’ve morphed into “aristo-bureaucrats” whose noblesse oblige equips them with the vision to determine what’s best for us without the inconvenience of asking.

    But not until they start stepping hard on our kids, e.g. the suggested closing of the science labs; Not until our home ownership and financial security is truly threatened by endless property tax assessments and ad valorem taxes; Not until we see our own retirement dreams float away to bailout the city’s unfunded pension obligations; Not until then will we have the pain level necessary to convert discontent into passion, passion into action, action into change. 50 is the new 30, I may live to see it yet.

  • Bruce Love

    It seems odd to me. For years, apparently, the City paid less money into the pension plans than it was obligated to, racking up debt. Various market downturns hurt Berkeley revenue and pension fund values, accelerating the day when the breach of obligation comes to a critical pass. And a lot of people look at that say that it’s the greed of employees that is the problem.

  • s z underwood

    @lifelongberkeleyan: An absolutely brilliant disquisition on our failed local politics (I comment as a fellow long time resident myself). Unfortunately, we are just a few aging “radicals” (we are the real heirs to Berkeley’s once venerable radical tradition) here talking to each other. We are not a threat to the power structure in the slightest degree. At best, we are Lenin and Trotsky in a café house in Geneva hatching plots. I agree that it will take a “WWI” level crisis/melt down for this corrupt junta to be overthrown body and soul, although, doubting the wisdom of my fellow citizens I am not necessarily optimistic that what will come to replace our current political machine will actually be an improvement. Stalin was as bad as the Czars, if not worse.

    In essence, you have mapped the blueprint to what Jefferson foresaw in the Declaration:

    That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

  • George Berkeley


    I don’t know if you ever read this deep into an article’s comments, but if you do…

    Please just run at least ONE additional statistical analysis. Your story here is that “salaries track neighbors closely.” Would you try to find out if our “size of city government” (as measured by number of employees per resident) similarly “tracks” our neighbors? As I recall, when those numbers were computed 8 years ago THAT was where the real story lay.

    Thanks in advance…

  • Bob Dixon

    Wow…guess Berkeley is o.k. Competitive with the neighbors! It’s always good to qualify through a comparison…so, I called my cousin who’s a police sergeant in Chicago. Told her the salary in Berkeley…seems she makes WAYYYYYYYY less – but then she only has a decade as a sergeant.

    sorry, missed one key word in first posting

  • Bruce Love

    I wish Berkeleyside luck with the very, very hard problem of presenting a more detailed analysis of the numbers in a way that soundly analyzes and informs rather than inflames innumerate and operationally naive interpretations. (This isn’t meant as a criticism of the current article. I’m looking at Lance Knoble’s intention to “have a go at” looking at the data in other ways and at some of the comments. I think we have a tendency to want these issues to be much simpler than they actually are. It’s all too easy to hang an abuse of sketchy “statistics” on any particular political agenda.)

  • Toni Mester

    As a former member of my union negotiating team, I know from experience that parity is a basic method of establishing salaries, but the job description categories need to be equivalent. Also, georgraphy is not the only determinant in comparisons; the district or cities should be similar sizes. Even so, comparisons often mask other structural inequities and problems.

  • Gogoll

    waww! I’d like to be a manager in the city of Berkeley! a lot of the salaries + retirement packages paid to city and state employees are off the chart. This is just one example; same goes for top administrators of public colleges. This is not to say that the the lower and middle-level public employees are over-compensated and don’t need a union to fight for them but the top could use a trimming. I can’t believe how I have to save in order to pay my property taxes so I can support these fat cats.