The Great Laguna Beach Real-Estate Give-Away

What do the following have in common:
* City Manager
* Assistant City Manager
* Fire Chief
* Battalion Chief (1)
* Battalion Chief (2)
* Senior Sewer Services Supervisor

If you guessed that all of these folks working for Laguna Beach earn well in excess of $150K per year (base), and in most cases in excess of $250K (total comp), you’d be partially right.

All of these folks have also been the recipients of the largess of the City Council who have deemed them to be “Essential Employees” making them eligible for the City’s “housing assistance subsidy” in which the city agrees to share equally in the PURCHASE of a LB home, (up to 50% equity or less). The logic behind this incredibly generous program is that “essential” employees need to be able to respond to emergencies in a timely manner. There is no formal definition of the program, nor which positions are “essential”, meaning it is up for grabs.

Bear in mind, the City Council believes that these “essential employees” need to reside in or near Laguna Beach, and could not afford to do so on their government compensation. Let’s take a look at the figures for 2015 (since then, all of these positions have received pay increases of at least 3%), as provided by Transparent California (http://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/2015/laguna-beach/):

Total Pay (without benefits)

  • City Manager –                  $249,912.83
  • Assist City Manager –       $203,104.07
  • Fire Chief –                        $236,056.98
  • Battalion Chief –               $222,996.72

LagunaBeachCHAT finds it to be unreasonable to have the taxpayers contribute more on top of these very generous amounts of compensation (bear in mind, the taxpayers are already contributing approx 30% more for each of these employees in the form of their DEFINED BENEFIT pensions). Its simply largess that no city can afford.

Click here to see 2015 compensation amounts for Laguna Beach’s city & safety employees

What the program means in practice is that the City is co-investor in several properties along with essential employees. Once employment with the City terminates, a participating employee can have up to 10 years to sell the property at which point the City gets its pro-rated share of the proceeds back. The most recent “essential” employee to avail themselves of the program is the new Assistant City Manager (annual base comp of her predecessor in 2015 = $194,239.23), for whom the CC moved in May of 2016 (shortly after her start) as approved by the  City Council:


Moved by Councilmember Dicterow seconded by Councilmember Zur Schmiede and carried unanimously 5/0, authorized the City Manager to:
(a) negotiate an offer with Shoreh Dupuis, Assistant City Manager/Director of Public Works (started with the City, around 1May2016), under the Essential Employee Housing Assistance equity-sharing and direct loan program on the terms and conditions consistent with other employee agreements and with the Agenda Bill;
(b) prepare and execute all documents necessary to implement the transaction with any costs shared equally by the City and the employee; and
(c) appropriate $1.3 million from the proceeds received from the sale of 1044 Noria Way and 1419 Regatta Road toward this transaction and, if necessary until the properties are sold, temporarily borrow from the Insurance Fund to complete the transaction.


Members of the tax-paying public went before the City Council to object to this “perk”, but the plea fell on deaf ears; the City Council continues to approve requests presented by the City Manager unanimously.

The accompanying document shows the agreement that the City made with the then Senior Sewer Services Supervisor, who had at that point (2008) worked for the City for 35 years. He & his wife wanted to stop renting & purchase a property to start building equity. Ultimately this request for “Essential Employee” status was granted and the city contributed up to $400,000 for the purchase of the home. This despite the fact that sewer division employees were already eligible for a monthly housing subsidy from the City at at then-$800 per month.

Recently we became aware that the City Manager refinanced his LB Employee City Subsidy Program partially city-owned home. Due to newer refinancing practices put in place after the housing melt-down, the City eventually gave-up its 50% equity position in the CM’s home, and has instead become the loan holder of the (refinance) note.

City Manager – John Pietig Housing Agreement 2001
More on Pietig FPPC here

Battalion Chief – Thomas Christopher Housing 2005

Essential Housing Motion 2008

Assistant City Manager Housing Subsidy 2016

Housing Element Agreement 2013-2021-final