Who are the highest paid city employees in SLO County?

November 1, 2020

By Karen Velie

While six of the seven cities in San Luis Obispo County are asking for sales tax increases to make up for revenue lost during the coronavirus, administration costs take a large bite out of their budgets.

Once again, San Luis Obispo employees top the list of highest paid city employees in the county. SLO city attorney Christine Dietrick takes the number one spot with $376,602 in pay, benefits and pro-rated pension funds.

CalCoastNews evaluated earnings information from Transparent California, a public pay and pension database, to determine the four top-paid employees in each of the seven cities in SLO County. The totals include salary, benefits and pro-rated pension funds.

Compensation information for San Luis Obispo, Atascadero, Paso Robles and Pismo Beach is from 2019. The data for Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande and Morro Bay is from 2018, the last time those cities filed with Transparent California.


Four highest paid employees from each of the seven cities in SLO County


City                      Pay/Benefits    Title                        Name

San Luis Obispo $376,602 City Attorney Christine Dietrick
San Luis Obispo $368,573 Fire Captain Mark Vasquez
San Luis Obispo $358,869 Police Chief Deanna Cantrell
San Luis Obispo $343,626 City Manager Derik Johnson
Pismo Beach $301,913 City Manager James Lewis
Atascadero $300,255 City Manager Rachelle Richard
Arroyo Grande $295,270 CD Director Deborah Malicoat
Paso Robles $287,645 ES Manager Jonathan Stornetta
Paso Robles $284,339 City Manager Thomas Frutchey
Arroyo Grande $281,123 City Manager Jaes Bergman
Arroyo Grande $272,495 Police Chief Beau Pryor
Pismo Beach $266,917 Police Chief Cristopher Miller
Paso Robles $263,200 Police Chief Ty Lewis
Paso Robles $256,980 Executive Manager Julie Dahlen
Atascadero $256,688 Police Chief Jerel Haley
Grover Beach $254,413 City Manager Matthew Bronson
Morro Bay $250,588 Fire Chief Steven Knucles
Atascadero $249,529 Fire Chief Casey Bryson
Morro Bay $246,272 City Manager Scott Collins
Arroyo Grande $244,593 Police Commander Michael Martinez
Morro Bay $236,640 PW Director Robert Livick
Grover Beach $236,557 Police Chief John Peters
Pismo Beach $223,452 PW Director Benjamin Tide
Grover Beach $225,130 Admin Services Gaya Chapman
Pismo Beach $219,568 Admin Services Nadia Feeser
Atascadero $218,075 Fire Captain Dean Pericic
Morro Bay $216,260 Police Chief Gregory Allen
Grover Beach $205,756 CD Director Bruce Buckingham


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Great reporting Karen Velie. Thank you!

Wow, those salaries are outrageous! However, I looked at the actual text of SLO tax measure G-20 and those funds can only be used for certain categories of expenses.

“To provide funding to protect City of San Luis Obispo’s financial stability; maintain fire, community safety, health emergency, disaster preparedness; protect creeks from pollution, address homelessness; keep public areas clean/safe; retain local businesses; repair streets; maintain youth/senior services, streets, open space/natural areas, and other general services”

There is also a citizen oversight commission that is independent from the council that has to audit and report on any use of those funds to ensure they are only being used for allocated approved categories. I don’t think the city spending those funds on salaries and pensions for city staff would fly with the oversight commission.

“Financial Stability” will be defined as the existing $175 million the city owes for retirement to the prior group who had the highest salaries so they can enjoy a wonderful retirement in Idaho, fishing, hiking, skiing and traveling to exoctic locations to furthur the pursuit of lifes passions.

slo-to-load, look again. Measure G-20 is a general purpose tax meaning it can be spent on anything the Council wants to spend it on. It goes into the general fund. It was written this way because as a general tax with no specific item to be spent on, it only requires 50% plus one vote. The language you cite is what came out of polling of residents – “If the tax were spent on ___, would you be more or less likely to vote for it?” It does not mean nor mandate it will be spent on those things. The reasons you voted for it were the very reasons the city chose to cite, based on polling, (at taxpayers’ expense I might add), to get this passed. And you fell for it.

The oversight committee is a joke. G-20 is a permanent tax. If it isn’t spent on what was promised, so what? It was a promise. Do you actually believe promises from our career city politicians? There is nothing legally binding as to where this money is spent. There will be a report, and the report will show this money was spent on various items that sound good. The money that would have been spent on those things anyway instead will go to employee pensions. It’s a shell game.

Please remember this when the Council comes back in a few years for yet another tax increase.

womanwhohasbeenthere, you might want to look again at what I said. I never said I voted for it.

You complain that the city is going to spend this measure on things the citizens don’t want, but then you also complain that the city spent taxpayer money to poll the citizens to find out what they actually do want! So how do you expect the city to know what the citizens want if they don’t take a poll to find out? The oversight committee has been operating for 8 years ensuring city compliance with the previous measure and its minutes and financial audits are all public record. So if the city is somehow able to overrule the commission as you claim and has spent the money on things outside the mandate of the measure, please by all means give us the specifics. It should be easy to find. Otherwise, your opinion is just pure speculation.

The poll was a scam. Sell the sizzle. There is nothing in the budget specifying Measure G money for anything. It goes into the general fund. The budget is 517 pages long. I read it; there is nothing there saying where the Measure G money is going. After so many pages I may have missed it, but I don’t think so.

The committee on oversight has no teeth. Like the Investment Oversight Committee and other committees, it can make recommendations. That’s all. It’s a feel-good measure that the average person who is not a city political junkie would assume is doing something worthwhile.

We need to raise sales taxes to pay for this.

Would be helpful to see the salaries with benefits excluded or at least itemized.

For all we know the cities are subscribed to an egregious insurance plan that’s bilking us for the majority, or at least half, of these numbers.

Sometimes cities offer a “cafeteria” plan for medical benefits, meaning the employee can decide among various plans that best suit his/her needs. These usually include dental and vision insurance, too. I think the unions have a lot to do with this.

But the biggest cost driver is the CalPERS pension plan, which pays anywhere from 2-3% of the employee’s highest salary, multiplied by the number of years of employment, for life. Safety personnel (police and fire) can retire at age 50 at 3%. If starting at age 25, and working 25 years, such a person can retire at age 50 at (3 X 25) 75% of his/her highest salary, which includes overtime. Thus many cities end up effectively paying for a second workforce or make minimum payments to cover the CalPERS requirements.

Government jobs were meant to provide a middle class lifestyle, not make millionaires out of ordinary employees. It would take an act of the state Legislature and a lot of political backbone to change the system. But without some significant changes or reductions, the system will eventually go broke.

All salary, medical, retirement, overtime, etc. compensation for any city in CA is available on the State Controllers website. Takes a little digging, but it is there.

For example, each full-time city employee of Paso Robles gets $12,604. in Health, dental, and vision insurance. As far an egregious insurance plan – my guess it can not be any more egregious than the CalPERS retirement plan. This makes the Social Security all of us working stiffs work our entire life for look like peanuts.

I know it will probably never happen – but it would be so great if all government employees had to pay into SS and receive same retirement benefits. Just a dream.

Did Christine Dietrick have anything to do with writing the “impartial analysis” of measure G-20 in the Voter Information Guide? It’s the citywide tax increase that doesn’t mention the word “tax” in the analysis. If so, that’s the height of irony.

“… that’s the height of irony.”

Moreso, I would say it is the height of obfuscation, deception and duplicity. In other words- business as usual for the SLO County left-wing radical establishment elite.