As the Threat of Layoffs and Furloughs Loomed, Some City Employees Still Made Bank in 2020

A glimpse at the city’s six-figure earners, from fire captains to cops to port pilots

The year 2020 was brutal for the economy of the City of Los Angeles, as finances were hammered by pandemic-fueled drops in the hotel tax, parking ticket income, and other revenue streams. It’s so bad that City Controller Ron Galperin recently warned that City Hall is facing a $550 million revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year (though some or all of that gap could be plugged with a portion of the $1.35 billion Los Angeles will receive in pandemic relief from the federal government).

For much of the year there were widespread threats of layoffs and furloughs, but many city employees managed to skate by the hard times. Nine workers earned more than $500,000 last year, and a total of 84 made north of $400,000.

The figures are available in Payroll Explorer, a transparency tool that Galperin launched in 2013, and that his office recently updated. It has complete data for the approximately 70,000 people who received some sort of payment from the city in 2020 (not all are full-time workers). The total payroll last year was $6.86 billion, up from $6.67 billion in 2019.

Payroll Explorer is full of intriguing financial finds. Los Angeles dug into the data for the niftiest nuggets.

Hey, Big Earner

Payroll Explorer compiles an individual’s base pay, overtime, personnel benefits, and what is known as “Other Pay,” a catch-all for bonuses, lump-sum payouts, and more. The city’s biggest earner in 2020 was a Los Angeles Fire Department captain (the database reveals job title but no names) who augmented his approximately $162,000 base salary with a stunning $405,000 in overtime. Add in almost $19,000 from the other fields and he made a cool $585,420 last year.

Three other fire captains also busted through the $500,000 barrier, with each pulling more than $300,000 just in overtime. The other five people who eclipsed a half-million dollars are all port pilots with the Port of Los Angeles; the job is perennially at the top rung of the city income ladder.

Public Safety Payment Plan

Not surprisingly, the department with the greatest number of workers also had the highest payroll; the 14,143 people who got a check by working for the Los Angeles Police Department last year earned a cumulative $1.92 billion. That pencils out to an average salary of $135,950.

While LAPD salaries comprised nearly 28 percent of the city’s payroll in 2020, police officers were not the highest earners; that designation belongs to firefighters. The 4,030 member of the Los Angele Fire Department earned an average of $199,349. Once again, overtime was huge; firefighters averaged more than $59,000 in OT in 2020.

The Chief Is 104

Speaking of the LAFD, last year Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas earned $373,109, according to Galperin’s database. It’s a healthy income by any measure, but 103 members of the department earned more than their boss; unlike almost everyone else in the LAFD, the chief doesn’t get overtime pay.

Department employees in myriad positions blew by Terrazas, among them captains and battalion chiefs, as well as a fire inspector whose $143,000 salary was augmented by $277,000 in overtime. Multiple assistant chiefs made more than the chief, as did a fireboat pilot who raked in $394,000.

Police chief Michel Moore

Paying the Police

As with his counterpart in the LAFD, Police Chief Michel Moore is not the highest-paid person in his department. But he’s close, and the $398,139 Moore earned in 2020 trails only a deputy chief who, according to Payroll Explorer, made $408,000.

Altogether, 28 LAPD employees earned more than $300,000 last year when all pay components are counted, and 178 surpassed $250,000. While the quarter-million club includes many high-ranking commanders and captains, there are also various police officers in its ranks. Other hefty earners include a detective who made $276,000, a senior communications engineer ($271,000), and the department’s inspector general ($267,000).

More than 1,000 LAPD employees made more than $200,000 last year between base pay, overtime, other pay and benefits.

The 300k Club

Last year, 592 people who work for the city made more than $300,000. They had an array of job titles: A street tree superintendent earning $195,000 in base pay received $182,000 in overtime and $47,000 in additional benefits to reach $425,000. An assistant city attorney reeled in $338,000 (a $239,000 salary and $88,000 in other pay, plus benefits). The general manager of the General Services Department received $304,010. There would have been 593 people on the list, but another assistant city attorney just missed the cut by earning $299,996.50.

Still Flying High

Air traffic may have tumbled in 2020 due to the coronavirus, but a bevy of employees of Los Angeles World Airports (which operates LAX and Van Nuys airport) still saw salaries reach cruising altitude. LAWA doled out $418 million in payroll last year, topped by a director of airports administration who made $468,000 ($246,000 in base pay, $209,000 in other pay and $13,000 in personnel benefits). In fact, unlike LAPD and LAFD employees, most of the 78 LAWA personnel who made more than $250,000 got there by substantial “Other Pay” contributions. This includes an airport police sergeant ($331,000), a property manager ($299,000), a plumber supervisor ($266,000), and a graphics supervisor ($251,000).

The Size of Things

Payroll Explorer also reveals which departments have the highest total salary expenditures, as well as the most employees. The LAPD and the Department of Water & Power finished one-two in both categories, but then things change. The Fire Department has the third-highest payroll, spending $803 million, but the fifth-highest employee count. The Department of Recreation and Parks, meanwhile, is third in paid positions (more than 8,000, though less than 25 percent are full-time), but ranks sixth in payroll, with $215 million. The Mayor’s office doled out $25.2 million to 312 employees.

Mayoral Money

Speaking of the mayor’s office, Eric Garcetti is, by many accounts, the most important civil servant in Los Angeles. However, when it comes to getting paid, he is far down the list. In 2020, a whopping 502 people made more than the mayor. Garcetti pulled in $308,214, according to Payroll Explorer. He was just behind a Fire Captain who out-earned him by $7.

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