BUD’S CORNER: City staffers deserve better

By Bud Emerson

Resident, Del Mar

It is painful to hear voices challenging the pay and benefits of Del Mar city employees. A favorite narrative of the chattering class these days is that all local government employees are being paid too well and their pensions are draining public resources. The reality is that the modest compensation earned by these hard-working public servants is what used to be called lower middle class.

Just a decade or two ago, high wages and generous pensions in the private sector set the middle class standard, and public employee compensation was expected to be a cut lower.

During the last few decades our economy has been radically redistributing wealth, which is resulting in a dramatic decimation of the middle class to the point where the modest levels of public sector compensation begin to look excessive. Most people at the top are doing quite well, but an increasing percentage of Americans are struggling from paycheck to paycheck without any pension protection.

Look back at the golden age of the middle class created in the decades after World War II by strong unions, progressive companies, and public policies favoring good paying jobs, home ownership, education, and retirement systems.

Contrast that period with the last few decades of rising child poverty, increasing bankruptcy rates, wage deterioration, chronic unemployment, housing foreclosures, and the virtual disappearance of private sector pensions systems while unions are losing members.

So instead of grappling with the main problem of a disappearing middle class, we jump on an easy target, public employees, trying to drag them down into the same trough.

Del Mar has always been fortunate in our ability to attract talented city employees despite our declared policy of setting compensation levels below the average of other cities. Although our residential population is less than 5,000, our city staff provides services for more than 7,000 workers and way more than 2 million visitors each year. They operate a city system that has to serve an average of about 40,000 people all together.

One day last month I saw public works staffers expertly repair an overflowing water reservoir, fire fighters execute a daring aerial rescue of an injured Crest Canyon hiker, and a lifeguard rescue six stranded teenagers in the ocean. Shortly before that I read an extraordinary Environmental Impact analysis of the Fairgrounds proposed Master Plan produced by a city planner weaving together scientific data, engineering figures, traffic studies, demography, and other complex information.

That’s just a tiny sample of the tireless work we get from these dedicated city staffers. They deserve a lot better than the cheap shots they get from some critics.