Retired Costa Mesa police chief takes No. 2 job at Port of L.A. force

Tom Gazsi spent 35 years in law enforcement in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa

The deputy police chief for the Port of Los Angeles — whose first day on the job was Monday — will earn more than $350,000 a year by collecting a pension on top of his new salary.

Tom Gazsi retired as police chief in Costa Mesa on Sunday and started work for the port police force the next day — meaning he will be collecting an annual pension of more than $185,000 in addition to his $167,000 salary.

Gazsi retired from the Costa Mesa Police Department after about 35 years of law enforcement work in Orange County.

He started his career in 1979 in Newport Beach and stayed with that department until 2011, when Costa Mesa hired him as chief.

That length of service means Gazsi will receive 90% of his final year's salary as a pension. The sum reflects his total years of service as a member of the California Public Employees' Retirement System, which Costa Mesa and the other cities that employed Gazsi paid into.

Costa Mesa city officials did not have a precise calculation of Gazsi's retirement but said the annual payout would be roughly $186,030, which is 90% of his $206,700 salary as chief in 2013.

Gazsi contributed 10.5% of his final year's paycheck toward his pension and slightly smaller percentages in previous years, said Lance Nakamoto, Costa Mesa's human resources director.

Combining his pension and new salary, Gazsi will bring in about $353,000 annually, a figure he confirmed.

"Some will be critical, suggesting that I'm leaving one system and going into another, and that's true," Gazsi said. "However, how does that distinctly differ from someone in the private sector who has served 35 years in a profession and then continues using the skills, training and expertise that were developed over decades to continue to serve the community and region?"

Gazsi could have retired earlier with a similar amount from CalPERS.

After more than 30 years with the Newport Beach Police Department, he'd locked in the maximum salary percentage of 90% for his pension. That length of employment rolled over into his retirement plan at Costa Mesa, which allowed him to retire at age 50. He's now 54.

At the port, he'll oversee emergency management and field operations that include security and anti-terrorism.

jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com

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