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2 Bay Area sheriffs top list of state’s highest paid local elected officials

Then-Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern in 2017 | Source: Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

California cities and counties paid out over $54.7 billion in wages in 2022, according to recently released data from the State Controller’s Office. That included more than 560 elected local officials who earned six-figure incomes.

Gregory Ahern, Alameda County’s four-term sheriff, was the best compensated local elected official in California last year. The county paid out more than $620,000 for his wages, retirement and health benefits, the data shows. The windfall came to an end after Ahern was unseated by challenger Yesenia Sanchez in June of 2022.

San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos—who was also voted out last year—came in second in terms of earnings. Nancy O’Malley, Alameda County’s longtime district attorney, who announced in 2021 that she would not seek a fourth term, logged the state’s fourth-highest official compensation, costing the county nearly $570,000.

Almost all of the top-paid local elected officials in the state in 2022 were law enforcement leaders. In fact, the auditor-controller of Alameda County was the only non-law enforcement official who cracked the top 15 highest-compensated local elected officials list.

Compensation varied widely across California’s cities in 2022. The 227 employees of La Puente—a small city of around 40,000 people some 20 miles east of Los Angeles—netted an average $23,000. Employees of Hayward in Alameda County took home five times that amount, earning an average wage of $126,000, the most statewide. Municipal employees of the former industrial town even beat out their counterparts in ritzy Beverly Hills, who took home $112,000 on average.

But it’s Vernon, California that sported by a long shot the highest municipal payroll costs per resident, more than $160,000. That’s because the 5-square-mile city has more city workers than residents, the data shows. Located directly southeast of Downtown Los Angeles, the city is home to just 205 people, yet it employs 246 municipal workers. With some 1,800 businesses, its website touts Vernon as the first “exclusively industrial city” in the Southwest.

Among cities with populations bigger than 100,000, Los Angeles, Berkeley and Oakland have some of the highest relative payroll costs, with all three paying their city workers an average of more than $2,000 per resident. 

The per-resident cost for San Francisco topped $6,700, according to the data, though that’s not because it’s the state’s biggest public payroll spender as a city. San Francisco is the only California city that doubles as a county, which means that pricey government departments typically housed at the county level, including the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s department, show up in San Francisco’s city wage total.

San Francisco paid out about $4.39 billion in payroll in 2022, including to 10 employees who took home over $500,000, The Standard previously reported.

Noah Baustin can be reached at