When you think about the best-paid gigs in the San Francisco Bay Area, you might be thinking of the tech industry. But check out firefighting in San Ramon, just east of the Silicon Valley.
In 2020, the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District — which covers 155 square-miles in Contra Costa County and serves a population of 192,858 — had nine employees whose total pay and benefits was at least $500,000, according to Transparent California. Among the $500,000 Club Members are four battalion chiefs, three captains, an engineer, and the fire chief himself.
The highest paid employee that year was a battalion chief who received $206,745 in regular pay, $228,677 in overtime pay, $47,703 in other pay, and $212,081 in benefits. In total, he received $695,206 in 2020. Even for employees lower on the pay scale, high pay is more of the norm than the exception. The average compensation for employees in SRVFPD is $331,260, and the median compensation is $309,806. The median household income for San Ramon is around $160,000.
This district, while it does not serve as many people as some of the largest fire districts, is home to some of the highest-paid fire department employees in all of California. In 2019, eight of the 10 highest-compensated fire employees, not including pension debt, in the state were located here. The fire chief of San Ramon Valley had more pay and benefits, ignoring pension debt, than the fire chief of San Jose, a man responsible for serving a population five times larger than San Ramon.
These high compensation packages aren’t a one-year fluke. Looking at 2015, San Ramon Valley had five of the 10 highest compensated fire officials in the state. Eight employees received at least $400,000 in compensation with the fire chief making $511,000 in total compensation. This follows a decade-long trend.
Compensation in the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District drew the ire of The New York Times, which dug into the numbers back in 2017. Then as now, the biggest contributor to the high compensation figures are massive overtime and benefits.
Unfortunately, as is the case with much union-orchestrated government largess, these levels of compensation are unsustainable. The district’s unrestricted net position is negative $15 million, meaning that the district will push on this debt to future taxpayers. That will only get worse — unless local taxpayers call an end to the recklessness or (more likely) the district declares bankruptcy.
Brandon Ristoff is a public policy analyst at California Policy Center.