Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Which California city pays the highest average salary?

Vernon is an industrial hub with twice as many city employees as residents.
Vernon is an industrial hub with twice as many city employees as residents.
Eric Zassenhaus/KPCC

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The State Controller's new listing of public employee salaries shows the tiny L.A. County city of Vernon had the highest average worker pay in the state in 2012, at more than $98,000 each.

Controller John Chiang's office has been publishing the payrolls of cities, counties, school districts, special districts and public colleges since 2010.

It was a response to the scandal in Bell, where secretive city managers hid their outsized pay from the public for years. Chiang says the website has received more than 7 million hits.

"People really, really care about this issue, especially when you witness what happened in the past in good communities like Bell," Chiang said. "They can review the salaries in their local community versus what others are paid in neighboring communities."

Vernon, an industrial hub with just 121 residents, has had its own share of trouble over big city salaries. Former city manager Bruce Malkenhorst earned more than $900,000 in his final year of employment. He was later convicted of misappropriation of public funds.

"The salaries were pretty much adjusted a couple of years ago and looked as if they were in perhaps the top quartile, but not the highest in the state," said John Van de Kamp, the former state Attorney General. He is an ethics advisor under contract to Vernon, which promised reforms after state legislators tried to disband the city.

Vernon is in the midst of a classification study to determine whether salaries should be further adjusted, he said.

Another factors boosting Vernon's average is that many of the city's 250 workers are police, firefighters or utility workers who serve Vernon's industrial customers. Those types of jobs pull down higher-than-average salaries among municipal workers. Retirement payouts to some senior city executives who left in 2012 also drove up the average pay, Van de Kamp said.

Los Angeles also ranked high on the state list, in fourth place, with city workers averaging more than $90,000 in annual compensation. By comparison, other big cities paid far less, including San Francisco, $77,000; San Diego, $64,000; San Jose and Palo Alto, $63,000; and Long Beach, $60,000.

The figures represent total compensation, which includes benefits, bonus pay and overtime.