Bay Area News Group
BERKELEY -- The City Council and mayor here are among the highest paid elected officials in the state for similar sized cities, according to a recent salary survey conducted by the city manager.
But that's not saying much when you consider the yearly take for a City Council member is $31,464 for what amounts to a full-time job, according to two elected officials who think voters should give them a pay hike in November.
"I think we deserve a raise and I think other City Council members think we do as well," said 29-year-old City Councilman Jesse Arreguin, who was first elected in 2008. Arreguin said he was earning more than $50,000 a year as a councilman's aide before he was elected to his lower paying council job. "Unless you are independently wealthy or retired, it's very difficult to work full-time as a City Council member."
Arreguin and Councilman Gordon Wozniak, who is retired and is giving up his seat at the end of the year, are considering introducing an item to the City Council that would put a raise to a vote of the people.
Voters in 1998 approved a raise to $1,800 a month for council members and $2,850 per month for the mayor. Since then, cost-of-living raises have brought those figures up to $2,622 a month for council members and $4,217 a month for Mayor Tom Bates, who doesn't take his pay home but instead puts it into his office budget.
Those salaries are far larger than salaries at any other similar sized California city surveyed by the city manager's office. For example, City Council members in Antioch make $941 a month while those in San Mateo take home $600 a month. Only Hayward comes close to the Berkeley politicians at $2,081 a month, according to the survey.
But Berkeley is different. Because of its highly engaged citizenry who demand much more work out of their elected officials, more time is needed for democracy, Arreguin said.
"There are a lot of opinions here, a lot of ideas and expectations about city government," Arreguin said. "We have a participatory democracy in Berkeley, which I'm proud of. But it does require us to work a little harder than some of these other cities."
Arreguin, who is up for re-election this year, said he is not afraid to be asking for money while he is running for re-election.
"My constituents, when they ask how much I get paid, they are appalled," said Arreguin, who said he must live with roommates to afford rent. "It's not even a living wage."
By contrast, Wozniak, 70, a retired scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, does not live with roommates and does not need the money. But he thinks if voters gave the City Council a raise, it would attract a wider array of talent.
"I think it's an equity issue, and if we had a higher salary it would allow more people to be on the Council and that would be a good thing," Wozniak said. "Many of the council people work full-time, and if you look at it that way they are getting $15 to $16 an hour. It's tough to do that if it's your only source of income."
Wozniak agreed that Berkeley's council salaries are among the highest, "so you could argue that maybe other cities aren't paying enough."
Wozniak said putting a raise on the ballot for City Council members might be politically difficult because the city is in labor negotiations with several of its unions "and one would have to think about the effect on those negotiations if one was to put a sizable increase in for the council. Any increase will be controversial. Could you convince the electorate that this is a full-time job?"
Reach Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/douglasoakley
Source: Berkeley City Manager’s Office