Most city employees don’t live in Glendale, and while top officials would prefer the statistics to be flipped, the constraints of reality make that ideal difficult to capture.
“Would it be nice to have everyone live within five minutes of City Hall? Yes. Is it probable? No,” said City Manager Scott Ochoa, listing off a range of personal issues — from economic to familial — that may block an employee from moving to Glendale.
About 29% of city employees live in Glendale, but that number bumps up a bit to 34% when La Crescenta and Montrose are added into the mix, according to an analysis of city data. The data includes zip codes and departments for each employee that receives a paycheck, including part-time workers and the Glendale Youth Alliance, an employment program for low-income teens and young adults.
It’s difficult, especially, to demand rank-and-file employees, who fill the potholes, fix downed power lines or work in planning to live in the city because of the cost of living, Ochoa said.
But many of the city’s top executives who rake in the biggest salaries and helm the largest departments also don’t live in Glendale, including Police Chief Rob Castro, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, Community Development Director Hassan Haghani and Glendale Water & Power General Manager Steve Zurn.
Ochoa moved to Glendale after he was hired in 2012, a transition he felt was an important symbol to the community, although it did uproot his family and took a bit of a financial beating because he had an underwater mortgage.
“As the city manager, it’s a little bit hard to sell Coke when you’re drinking Pepsi,” he said, adding that he needs to live with the consequences of decisions he makes on behalf of the city.
At the same time, though, he said he didn’t expect his executive team to move to Glendale because many may have bought their homes earlier on in their career.
Scoggins, who lives in Covina, said he house hunted in Glendale in 2008, but with the recession, the value of his home fell and he couldn’t afford to sell it at a loss. Then as the market began to reverse, Glendale prices rose, but those in the East San Gabriel Valley didn’t keep pace, said Scoggins, who is one of the highest paid Glendale employees, grossing about $245,000 in 2013.
Living in Glendale though isn’t the only sign of loyalty, Scoggins said, adding that he’s on the board of two Glendale hospitals, the Salvation Army, Sunrise Rotary and other organizations.
“It’s important that our employees are committed to the city of Glendale and in every one of our departments here in the fire department, we are committed to the city of Glendale, no matter where we live,” he said.
FOR THE RECORD 12:06 p.m.: A previous version of this article stated that Castro lives in El Monte. This is incorrect. He lives in La Verne.
Castro, who is waiting to move from La Verne to Glendale until his son graduates from high school next year, echoed his counterpart. When he left his role as chief of the Glendora Police Department in 2013, only 12% of employees lived in that city, down from more than 60% in 1985. He attributed the drop to the growing housing market east of the city.
While sworn Glendale police officers are required to live within 60 miles of the city, there is no such obligation for firefighters.
Only 23, or 9%, of fire department employees live in the Glendale/Montrose/La Crescenta area. Seventy- five, or 19%, of Glendale police employees live in the city.
Los Angeles and Santa Clarita have some of the highest concentrations of fire and police department employees, but a few fire employees live as far away as Murrieta and Bakersfield. Some police employees live near the 60-mile cutoff in Acton and Fontana, which are both about 50 miles away.
It’s not unusual for firefighters to have a long commute because they work 24-hour shifts, Chris Stavros, president of the firefighter’s union, said. In addition, many may live near their extended family to provide child care during their multiday stints at the fire station.
Despite the distance, Scoggins said if there’s an emergency and the fire department needs to man all its equipment, which would require about 40 workers, it takes just two to three hours to bring in reserves. In the interim, Glendale is supported by firefighters from neighboring cities.
Councilman Ara Najarian said he would like the city to encourage more employees to live within its borders. He said he would also consider extending the 60-mile requirement for police to firefighters as well.
“I want every employee to know that I want you to live in Glendale,” Najarian said. “I can’t force you to, but I want you to be part of our community, to send your kids to the Little League, the AYSO soccer, to drive our roads…to suffer through the same things we do and enjoy the same things we do in Glendale.”
But Glendale’s statistics aren’t an anomaly. About 36% of Burbank city employees live there and 23% of Pasadena workers are based in Pasadena, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Human Resources Director Matt Doyle, who lives in Burbank, said when the city is hiring, residency isn’t a priority.
“Our objective is to find candidates who meet the qualifications for our jobs and who make it through the process on their merits,” Doyle said. “It’s generally not a concern as long as once hired, employees can report to work on time.”