More than two-thirds of people who work for the city of Los Angeles live somewhere else, a Los Angeles Times analysis suggests.
Out-of-towners are especially common among those charged with keeping Angelenos safe from crime and fire. Only 21% of Police Department employees live in Los Angeles, and 16% of Fire Department workers call the city home, according to the analysis of city data showing where workers receive their paychecks.
Experts say the high numbers point to forces that continue to push people out of the city, including pricey housing and poor impressions of the public schools. Workers who make more money are much more likely to live in Los Angeles than those with lower incomes, the analysis shows. Nearly 48% of the highest-paid employees live in the city, compared with 20% of the lowest-paid.
Mary Kamuck, who has worked for the city for nearly three decades, makes the daily drive from Azusa to her downtown job at the Department of Building and Safety call center — a commute that takes half an hour early in the morning and up to two hours when she returns home in the afternoon.
When the single mother first looked for a home where she could raise her two sons, she couldn't afford L.A., she said — and she doubts she could do so even now.
"I paid $132,500 for my house," she said. "I couldn't find anything like that."
The daily employee exodus adds to traffic and pulls money out of the city when paychecks are spent somewhere else, said Los Angeles Councilman Bernard C. Parks.
The situation also raises concerns for some who see residency as an important sign of investment in the community.
"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."
"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?"
Others counter that police officers, firefighters and other city employees don't need to live in Los Angeles to show their dedication. Regardless of where they call home, "our firefighters spend over a third of our lives in the city," said Frank Lima, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City. "They love the people of L.A. They come to die for the people of L.A."
Some nearby cities have roughly similar or lower percentages of workers who are residents: Only 36% of Burbank city employees live in Burbank, 25% of Glendale workers in Glendale, 23% of Pasadena workers in Pasadena, and a mere 5.5% of Beverly Hills employees in Beverly Hills, according to city representatives.
But those places are dramatically smaller in geography and population than Los Angeles, the nation's second-most populous city.
A handful of L.A. employees — 48 out of nearly 35,000 full-time city workers — get their paychecks delivered out of state, a few as far away as Colorado and Alaska. More than half of those are in the Fire Department, where firefighters can schedule blocks of days at work, followed by blocks of days off.
Many more out-of-town L.A. employees are in close cities such as Long Beach, Inglewood and Palmdale, with nearly 4 out of 5 city employees living somewhere in Los Angeles County. And one-fifth of full-time city employees live in the Inland Empire or Orange or Ventura counties.
The Times performed its residency analysis using data from the city controller, the office that processes payrolls. No employee names or exact addresses were included in the information. Instead, The Times examined ZIP Codes to estimate how many employees were Los Angeles residents. The analysis counted any ZIP Code with a post office located in the city as part of Los Angeles.
High numbers of out-of-town workers have spurred concerns in the past: In 1994, an American Civil Liberties Union finding that 83% of Los Angeles Police Department officers lived outside the city spurred sharp criticism alleging that the police were an "occupying army" of white suburbanites disconnected from the communities they patrolled.
Since then, however, the department has come to more closely reflect the city's diverse population, said Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California. Officers have also gained greater understanding of how to build relationships with the communities they police, no matter whether they live there, he added.
Still, he said, "would having officers live in the city help promote connections to the communities they serve? Yes, absolutely, and the city should strive to help officers to live here."
The question is how. Lima, the union leader, said that decades ago, "you used to have to live in the city just to take the test to be a firefighter." But the state ultimately nixed such requirements. Under California law today, local government agencies cannot require their employees to live in the areas they serve.
The numbers don't mean city workers don't care about Los Angeles, said Kevin Klowden, director of the California Center at the Milken Institute. Instead, he said, they reflect affordability and quality-of-life issues that nudge people into neighboring towns — especially the reputation of schools.
"I guarantee that's the No. 1 issue," he said. "If you want to send your kids to the public school system in L.A., the areas with the best schools are expensive."