The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved a 12.5 percent raise for themselves at the Jan. 10 meeting, a salary increase of more than $19,000 a year. Newly-appointed board vice chair Kristin Gaspar, who represents District 3, was the sole vote against the raises.
The new formula is based on the salaries of San Diego County Superior Court judges — the supervisors’ salary had been set at 80 percent of judges’ salaries. Per the approval, it will now shift to 85 percent from March 17-Dec. 7 and to 90 percent afterward. The regular supervisor salary will increase from $153,289 to $162,870 and then increase to $172,450.
“The adjustment before us today is fair and it’s reasonable,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts.
Roberts said San Diego is the second largest county in California but its supervisors aren’t compensated as such — seeing counties such as San Bernadino with higher compensation called into question the need for adjustment. He said the increases will put San Diego second in compensation but the county would still be “significantly” lower than Los Angeles and over 150 county employees would still earn higher salaries than the supervisors.
The formula establishing the supervisors’ salaries has not been adjusted since 1998, according to Roberts, and salaries have been increased a total of 7.17 percent over the nine years since 2008.
The fiscal impact of the increases would be $17,688 for the remainder of 2016-17 and additional costs of $88,438 for 2017-18.
In making her vote against the salaries, Gaspar explained that for many years, both in the public and private sectors, she has been responsible for overseeing and implementing employee compensation packages.
“This is a duty I take very seriously because as I know, there are always competing priorities for our precious resources,” Gaspar said.
The question she said she always asks herself when reviewing employee compensation for her own company or as an elected official is whether the compensation is appropriate for the work performed.
“Awkwardly I sit here having been sworn in just 24 hours ago and I can be the first to admit that I don’t know how to get past that first fundamental question, so I won’t be supporting the motion on the floor today,” Gaspar said.
Gaspar’s predecessor, former District 3 Supervisor Dave Roberts, also voted against the salary increase at December’s first reading before he left office.
Some in the audience began to yell as the supervisors prepared to vote, one woman shouting “shame on you!” Board chair Dianne Jacob had to quiet the audience before they could continue, stating that even though there may be disagreements there should always be respect and that outbursts and “unfortunate personal attacks” aren’t helpful.
“Let’s continue to work together as a community,” Jacob said. “I think you’ll find this board in the past and in the future willing to work with all San Diego citizens in trying to address the priorities.”
During public comment of 25 speakers in opposition, many argued that taking money away from people who are suffering is not fair or reasonable.
Members of the Invest in San Diego Families Coalition and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACE) spoke about how the salary increases seem wrong in light of how many in the community are struggling. They referenced a recent report showed that the percentage of people homeless in San Diego County is higher than it was during the great recession eight years ago, there is a housing crisis and San Diego has the fourth highest homeless population in the nation.
“The county needs to address affordable housing, it is out of reach for many. We ask you to make the same investment in the county’s families and safety-net services as you are making in yourselves,” said Lileana Robles.
Deanna Myers asked the supervisors to consider walking a mile in her shoes — she has worked for the county for 30 years and as an office assistant she tops out at $17.49 an hour.
“You live on that salary,” she challenged, noting that the average housing in San Diego is now $1,800 a month. “County employees would love to have a 12.5 percent raise. If you can do it for yourself you darn well better come with it for San Diego County employees…There’s so many things we need, we don’t need to spend $90,000 a year on your retirement when we, as a community, are suffering.”
Rancho Penasquitos resident Isabella Firth asked the board members to “check their priorities” after watching last summer when the board was asked to spend reserves investing in needs like homelessness, foster care, mental health services and criminal justice and did not.
“And yet you’re able to grant yourselves an annual increase that is more than many families have to live on. That failure to invest in San Diego families diminishes us as a county,” Firth said. “And your willingness to vote to increase your own comfort adds insult to that injury. You can say that in a budget as big as San Diego’s this is just a drop in the bucket. But these acts tell us where your priorities are and who you serve.”
Jacob said the board listened very carefully to the many “compelling” arguments people made. She said when the supervisors get to the budget for next year, she thinks the board will adjust priorities appropriately and have adequate public hearings.
“They’re tough decisions to make but we do our best to carefully allocate the resources that we have control over,” Jacob said. “Let’s all work together and not create divisiveness in our community because, in the end, that’s not going to help us come to good decisions.”