Miguel Santana is not just the top bean counter of City Hall, Downtown News editor Jon Regardie proclaims. Over lunch at Bar Ama, and a listening session at Emma Schafer's Current Affair Forum, Regardie has decided that the city administrative officer is "actually worth writing about." It's not just that he has somehow made the City Hall budget almost non-controversial, but Santana has inserted himself into all kinds of policy issues such as whether to sign up the city to push for the 2024 Olympics. Hired by then-mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Santana came from the county and had worked for Gloria Molina. He was raised in Bell Gardens by undocumented immigrant parents from Jalisco who were married at St. Vibiana's. "I grew up fearful my parents could be deported,” Santana says.
His surprise new top issue is the homeless.
From Regardie's Downtown News profile.
So why were 60 local attorneys, union reps, media types and others gathered in The Palm last month, listening intently as Santana spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum? They were there because, in the past six years, Santana has obliterated the expectations of his job, and in doing so has made his own spotlight. Sure, the 46-year-old Bell Gardens native has helped right the city’s once-ultra-shaky fiscal ship, but he has also inserted himself into the civic discussion on other key subjects….
He told the Current Affairs Forum that while in college at Whittier, he helped run a winter shelter. He also delved into the issue while on Molina’s staff. He has lived in Downtown for three years, walking to work each day from his home near Pershing Square. He sees homelessness on a daily basis.
That background helped inspire him to take action on the issue, which he told the Current Affairs Forum is at the “top of my agenda.” In April 2014, working in concert with City Attorney Mike Feuer, Santana issued a 10-page report calling for an immediate $3.7 million Skid Row cleanup, including more restroom facilities. This past April, he issued a 21-page report stating that the city spends $100 million a year on homelessness, but with little coordination between departments, and with the vast majority of the funds going to law enforcement measures.
The reports grabbed headlines, in part because of who they came from. It wasn’t an elected official leading the charge, but the budget guy. The studies didn’t set policy, but they did lay out potential courses of action.
There’s another way that Santana differs on homelessness from most elected officials: He doesn’t pretend this is a fight that can be “won.”
“We will never solve homelessness. That’s just a fact,” he states. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t try.”