May 29, 2023
Final Reports
San Mateo Courts - Civil Grand Jury

2001 Final Report:

San Mateo County Public Officials Compensation and Benefits Survey

Summary | Background | Findings | Recommendations | Responses


The 2001-2002 Grand Jury investigated the compensation and benefits provided to members of the governing boards of all cities, towns, school districts, and special districts in San Mateo County. There is a wide variance in the compensation paid to these officials within each category. LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission), which among other activities publishes some compensation and benefits data in its Cities and Special Districts Handbook, has failed to update this Handbook since 1996.

Issue: What compensation and benefits are paid to members of the governing boards of public entities in San Mateo County? Is this information reaching the citizens of the county?


The San Mateo Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) publishes a Cities and Special Districts Handbook that serves as a guide to cities, towns, special districts, and other public agencies in San Mateo County. It contains data on governing board members' compensation and benefits. The 2001-2002 Grand Jury reviewed the Handbook, which was last updated in 1996, and found its information was out of date.

The Grand Jury decided to survey public agencies to obtain current data that was broader in scope and more detailed than that contained in the LAFCO Handbook. The Grand Jury obtained information from all county public agencies, and, except for the Ravenswood School District and the Mid-Peninsula Water District, was able to clarify all data issue questions. Submitted data were accepted without independent audit.


The Grand Jury's summary of data submitted by San Mateo County's 70 cities and towns, school districts, and special districts (attached) lists the:

  • Annual pay to which each governing board member is entitled if he or she attends all meetings
  • Actual annual cost to the agency of pay, benefits (health, dental and life insurance), and retirement provided to the governing board as a whole for fiscal year 2000-2001.

The data are reported in three categories by type of agency (cities and towns, school districts, and special districts).

There are wide variations in statutory annualized pay within each category. Among cities and towns, for example, statutory annualized pay ranges from none (Atherton, Hillsborough, Portola Valley, and Woodside) to $13,008 (Daly City). For school districts the comparable range is zero (Burlingame, Cabrillo, Hillsborough, La Honda-Pescadero, Las Lomitas, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Portola Valley, San Carlos, and Woodside) to $4,800 (South San Francisco Unified) and $5,040 (San Mateo Community College District). In special districts statutory annualized pay for governing board members ranges from none (Broadmoor Police Protection, Highlands Recreation, Ladera Recreation, Los Trancos Water District, Peninsula Healthcare, Port of Redwood City, San Mateo County Resource Conservation, Sequoia Healthcare, and Woodside Fire Protection) to $7,200 (San Mateo County Harbor District).

Most cities, towns, and school districts provide health and dental insurance to their governing board members. Some provide life insurance, too. Most special districts do not provide such benefits. Of the cities and towns in the county, the richest benefit package, costing $46,433 per year, is provided by the City of Redwood City, followed by Colma ($38,819) (average for the category is $19,060). Among school districts, the San Mateo Community College District provides the richest benefit package ($34,341), followed by Jefferson Union High School District ($32,481) (average for the category is $11,306). San Mateo County Harbor District provides the highest cost benefit package ($35,034) among special districts (average for the category is $4,846), followed by the Mid-Peninsula Water District ($31,945).

Most entities reimburse governing board members' normal business expenses such as mileage, conference registration fees, professional dues, and subscriptions. A few do not: (cities and towns) Half Moon and Portola Valley, (school districts) Bayshore, Hillsborough, La Honda-Pescadero, Las Lomitas, San Bruno Park, and Woodside, and (special districts) Broadmoor Police Protection, Colma Fire Protection, Half Moon Bay Fire Protection, Highlands Recreation, Ladera Recreation, Los Trancos County Water, North Coast Water, Peninsula Health Care, Skyline County Water, San Mateo County Resource Conservation, and Woodside Fire Protection.

Two cities provide car allowances to their council members-Daly City ($300-350 per month) and Pacifica ($127 per month), and Colma gives three of its council members a $47 per month health club membership. All other reimbursement levels appear normal and reasonable.

Several agencies reported overall undifferentiated expense reimbursement amounts for their governing boards as a whole that were high compared with others in the same category: City of East Palo Alto ($20,011) (average for the category is $2,480); San Mateo Union High School District ($6,749) and Sequoia Union High School District ($9,036) (average for the category is $1,411); and San Mateo County Mosquito Abatement District ($7,348), Sequoia Healthcare District ($13,108) and Port of Redwood City ($30,672) (average for the category is $2,515).

The Grand Jury was initially concerned that a few agencies still pay health and retirement benefits for former members who no longer serve on the governing boards. This was permitted under prior state law but is no longer allowed for officials whose initial term of office commenced after January 1, 1995. No agency appears to be in violation of the current law. In some agencies, former board members are allowed, under defined circumstances, to maintain and participate in the agency's health and welfare benefits at the individual's expense.
The 1992 Grand Jury recommended that LAFCO incorporate compensation, benefits, and reimbursement paid to city and town council members into the LAFCO Handbook. The most recent occasion that LAFCO published this information was six years ago in 1996. LAFCO staff stated to the 2001-2002 Grand Jury that LAFCO will compile and publish compensation data on a more frequent basis in the future. The Grand Jury believes this data would be sufficiently current if published at least every two years



1. LAFCO should:

  • Collect total compensation (direct pay, health and welfare benefits, retirement benefits, and reimbursed expenses) data for all public agency governing board members in San Mateo County
  • Publish such data on a biennial basis, either in the Cities and Special Districts Handbook or in a separate document, within 90 days of the end of the most recent fiscal year beginning with fiscal year July 1, 2002 to June 30, 2003
  • Distribute the information widely to the taxpayers of San Mateo County

2. The 2002-2003 Grand Jury should review these data and evaluate the appropriateness of each category of compensation.

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