“In the ongoing saga of the $1.7 million toilet once planned for the Noe Valley Town Square, there’s some good news and some news that will turn your stomach,” San Francisco Chronicle columnist Heather Knight wrote January 21.
The good news is that a resident donated a free prefabricated bathroom with one toilet, expected to be operational in August or September (much sooner than the 2025 operational date planned for the original commode).
The bad news: “The free gift won’t save the city $1.7 million. Not even close.”
The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department “hopes to keep the toilet costs under $1 million,” San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman told the columnist.
“It’s insane, but it’s also consistent with everything else about city government,” the elected official said. “They’re trying to get it under $1 million, so at least it’s not going to be a $2 million toilet.”
Observers noted that government projects often go far over budget, so the true cost remains an open question.
“The toilet is just a symptom of a far larger San Francisco problem: bloated budgets for public projects that are big on dollars but short on sense,” Knight opined. “In a city consistently ranked as the most expensive in the world in which to build, nearly every price tag is jaw-dropping. Cutting costs is essential as the city stares down a looming budget deficit that will make solving its huge problems even harder.”
Former Air Board Executive Gets Nearly Half a Million in Added Pay on His Way Out. Former California Air Resources Board Executive Officer Richard Corey received almost $500,000 in added pay last year when he left the agency, taking home $623,238, The Sacramento Bee reported January 25.
The payout, primarily compensation for unused vacation time, helped Corey more than triple his total compensation from the previous year, The Bee noted.
Corey had served as executive officer since 2013, and had worked for the regulatory board for 37 years when he retired. An agency spokesperson told the newspaper that Corey “accrued considerable vacation, personal leave and holiday time” during those years.
Corey left the agency in June and joined a private-sector consulting firm three months later.
“It is not usual for government employees to leave their jobs with large payouts,” The Bee noted. “In 2018, the state paid out nearly $300 million for banked time off, a Los Angeles Times analysis of payroll data found. The newspaper found more than 450 state workers who pulled in six-figure checks when they left their jobs that year.”
The value of leave is based on an employee’s salary level at the time it is cashed out, not when it was earned, so government employees have a strong incentive to forego vacations and bank the time for an eventual windfall.
The state caps the accrual of leave time in various contracts with state bargaining units, but enforcement of the caps appears to be lax. In 2020, for example, the Legislative Analyst’s Office reported that as of the end of 2019, “500 [California Highway Patrol bargaining unit] members – about 7 percent – had vacation or annual leave balances that exceeded the existing 816-hour cap.”