Sunday, April 24, 2011 This article appeared on page D - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Representatives of the city's firefighters and police officers have been knee-deep in pension reform talks with Mayor Ed Lee, saying their members can't afford anywhere near the contribution rates being pushed by Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
That may be, but their oft-used claim that their workers need big paychecks to afford this pricey city doesn't necessarily hold up under scrutiny. You know, the kind of scrutiny that shows the vast majority of them hightailing it out of San Francisco once their shifts are over.
Statistics from the city's Department of Human Resources show only 25 percent of police officers live in the city. Thirty percent live in San Mateo County, 17.5 percent live in Contra Costa County and the rest live scattered around the Bay Area or even outside it.
A third of firefighters live in the city, while 16 percent live in San Mateo County, 11 percent in Sonoma County and 8 percent in Alameda County. Seven percent of them don't live in the Bay Area at all. Tom O'Connor, their union head, said many paramedics hired during a shortage about a decade ago still live in Modesto, Stockton and even the Lake Tahoe area.
Forty-six percent of city workers in other job classifications - most of them paid less than police officers and firefighters - live in the city. We hear from the HR department that the lower you're paid, the more likely you are to live in San Francisco.
Of course, this could matter tremendously after an earthquake, if emergency responders aren't able to make it into the city - especially since many of them would need to drive over a bridge to get here. Despite the city's new law mandating that residents be hired for city-funded construction projects, there's no requirement for where emergency responders must live.
That's because the state Constitution - Article 11, Section 10 (b) for those checking - bars local governments, including charter cities like San Francisco, from telling workers they have to live in town.
The union heads for police officers and firefighters said their workers usually live in the city when they're young, single renters - but head elsewhere once they're ready to start a family and buy a house.
Gary Delagnes, head of the Police Officers Association, lives in Novato. He said many police officers live in Petaluma, Windsor, Antioch, Pittsburgh, South San Francisco and San Bruno. Some live as far away as Fairfield, Vacaville and Dixon.
"It's kind of funny because people use this $100,000 figure like it's a lot of money. 'Oh my God! Policemen make over $100,000 a year!' " he said. "How far does $100,000 go in the Bay Area? Especially when you're paying 10, 12, 14 percent in retirement contributions."
The maximum base pay for a police officer in San Francisco will be $104,286 as of July 1, which is 4.5 percent higher than their counterparts around the Bay Area, according to the HR department. Officers pay 9 percent toward pensions, but will probably have to pay more in coming years.
O'Connor declined to say where he lives. He said it can be beneficial to have some emergency responders living outside the city so that in a major earthquake, they're not coping with their own personal losses.
As we told you recently, the HR department says firefighters are the only job classification in the city paid way more than their counterparts in the rest of Bay Area. Their maximum base pay as of July 1 will be $108,888, or $48.37 an hour. On an hourly basis, that's 36.06 percent higher than their Bay Area counterparts.
O'Connor said that's because San Francisco is the seventh-busiest fire department in the country, and it's unfair to compare its heavy workload to other, smaller departments. "We're beyond the pale of all the other departments they're comparing us to," he said.