Los Angeles - More than 63% of Los Angeles city employees reside outside of Tinseltown, according to an LA Times analysis published Friday.
Less than half of the city’s highest-paid employees and more than two thirds of the lower rank-and-file lives somewhere other than LA.
Perhaps more troubling, it is mostly the city’s police and firefighters who choose to live anywhere but the city. A scant 21% of Police Department employees live in the city and just 11% of its firefighters reside there, according to the report.
According to many, it is too expensive for the city’s employees to live where they work. While the state of California has high taxes, taxes and the cost of housing within the city are even higher and many schools within the "unified" district have bad reputations.
Just as long-term city employees like police and firefighters cannot afford to, or choose not to live in LA, many blue-collar employees and those working in service industries are forced to commute or work elsewhere.
For example, Mary Kamuck who works at the Department of Building and Safety call center, according to the Times report, has put in nearly 30 years working for the city. Nevertheless she can’t afford to live in it. Instead, she commutes up to 2 ½ hours per day from Azusa. A single mother, Kamuck said she was forced to look elsewhere for a home to raise her two sons because housing in the city is too pricey.
"I paid $132,500 for my house," she said. "I couldn't find anything like that."
For many city employees the cost of maintaining a vehicle to commute from outside the city is a more attractive financial situation than renting or buying and maintaining a home inside the city limits.
However, hundreds of city employees who live within a 50-mile radius are furnished a vehicle to drive home. In 2009, the LA controller questioned the considerable expense of furnishing ’take-home’ cars.
About 1100 city employees enjoyed the perk which includes free gas and maintenance on their vehicles, according to a Times report published in January 2009. Nevertheless, most LA city employees choose to live elsewhere because of the high costs of housing, high taxes, questionable school districts and high crime rates.
Experts say the notion of police and firefighters choosing to live outside of the city sends the wrong message.
"It sends a bad message that our own public safety officers don't want to live in our city," said Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. Like other employees, Guerra said, police live elsewhere because "they can get more for their money further outside. There's a belief that the schools are better, and that communities are safer.... That's the one that really bothers me."
Guerra argues that having a majority of the city’s police live elsewhere sets a bad example for people who might otherwise live in and invest in the city.
"People are only going to invest in Los Angeles if they feel that it's safe. It should start with police officers," Guerra added. "If they're not willing to invest, why should they be on the force?"
Los Angeles police living outside of the city is not new; the issue has sparked unrest for two decades. In 1994, the American Civil Liberties Union reported that 83% of Los Angeles Police Department officers lived outside the city. The report drew sharp criticism then, including allegations that the “police were an ‘occupying army’ of mostly white suburbanites disconnected from the communities they patrolled.”