Deanna Santana: The South Bay’s Most Prolific Public Mercenary

The South Bay’s most prolific public mercenary is taking her talents to Santa Clara.

Two weeks ago, word came down that Deanna Santana would leave her post as city manager of Sunnyvale for the same position in Mission City, just a five-mile drive down El Camino Real. Her ever-increasing compensation continues to accumulate like bricks on the backs of Bay Area taxpayers.

In addition to her two public pensions, Santana’s new job will reportedly include an annual salary just shy of $373,000, a monthly car allowance of $550, five weeks of “management leave” and a monthly housing allowance of $3,750. That last detail might seem odd, considering the city exec—who in just over six years has hopscotched from San Jose to Oakland to Sunnyvale and now Santa Clara—also received an unprecedented loan to be lured away from the East Bay.

As part of the contract she signed with Sunnyvale in 2014, Santana had a yearlong window to get a housing loan to move her family from Fremont and set up a primary residence in the city of her current employ. She missed that window, which required Mayor Glenn Hendricks to sign off on an extension to award Santana a loan. The terms of the deal: more than $1.1 million for 45 years at only .065 percent interest.

“As far as I’m concerned, that loan is practically free,” Kimie Seaton, a Sunnyvale mortgage consultant, told San Jose Inside this spring.

Apparently, even free money isn’t enough to stop Santana from up and leaving a job.

The terms of paying back that housing loan have yet to be fleshed out, according to Sunnyvale spokeswoman Jennifer Garnett, but the city manager must do so within six months of leaving for Santa Clara, which is expected to occur in October. Garnett told San Jose Inside that through Aug. 1, Santana had paid just $29,723 of principal on her loan of more than $1.16 million.

Reviews of Santana’s work over the years have toggled the extremes. She was called “courageous” and “gutsy” during her time in Oakland, and there were also calls to fire her for “engaging in unethical behavior.” Strangely, Santana’s shining moment in Oakland was ordering police to brutally clear an Occupy protest that resulted in an Iraq War veteran suffering permanent brain damage.

She was also connected to a whistleblower complaint that led a jury to award a former subordinate $613,000. Throughout this time Santana called herself a shining example of Oakland, going as far in one story to utter the words “I am Oakland.” The same month that story came out, Santana left Oakland.

In an interview several months prior, December of 2013, Santana defended her interest in a city manager job in Dallas by noting, “This is an opportunity to review all the decisions in front of me and make the best decision for me and my family.” For those unfamiliar with sports cliches, Santana is well-versed in Free Agent Speak 101. She reportedly added, in no small instance of self-promotion, that she “had received calls from more than a half dozen other interested parties.”

One has to wonder, if it’s really all about doing the people’s business for Santana, why does she so frequently appear to be on the job hunt?

Santana boasted to the Merc about her past work with professional sports franchises in Oakland, suggesting this was a key reason Santa Clara hired her. She added that she intends to repair the city’s relationship with the 49ers by “building bridges instead of burning them down.”

For those not keeping score, the past two city managers in Santa Clara were more or less shoved out for being too cozy with the 49ers, not the other way around. And it’s worth mentioning that Santana’s so-called pedigree with pro sports teams ended in these circumstances: the Oakland Raiders are moving to Las Vegas; the Golden State Warriors are moving to San Francisco; and the Oakland A’s, who still have no stadium plan, spent the entirety of Santana’s tenure trying to build a new ballfield in San Jose.

Her top accomplishments in Sunnyvale, according to the city’s spokeswoman, include downtown development, plans to rebuild a wastewater treatment plant, lots of grant applications, a new city website and a new $98,000 logo that looks like Shrek got a spring break tramp stamp. (As you might imagine, the city did not describe its new logo in these words.)

Politicians and top administrators often champion the financial sacrifices they make, leaving stacks on the table to do the people’s work over more lucrative opportunities in the private sector. Perhaps someday Santana will test this theory. Or, perhaps she’ll simply leave sooner than Santa Clara expects.

County Assessor Larry Stone, who served on the Sunnyvale City Council when the city’s executive loan program was created more than three decades ago, defended the original intent as a recruitment perk. “I think government is as complicated as the private sector and just as important, if not more important, than any company in the valley,” he said.

But when discussing how good of a deal Sunnyvale got in return for Santana’s brief tenure, Stone wasn’t so sure. “If I was the mayor and the council, I would be more than disappointed that someone came to work for me—home loan or not—and was only there for three years and moved right next door to my city,” he said.

In a somewhat combative call Tuesday, Sunnyvale’s Mayor Hendricks said that Santana “has done a fantastic job” but his “preference would have been not for her to leave.”

Hendricks added that he didn’t think Santana’s home loan was “a relevant factor” to the story of her leaving for Santa Clara, and later he demanded to know why a reporter would call the cell phone number he posts on the city’s website. He added that the number was specifically for Sunnyvale residents to use—unfortunately, this reporter lives and works in San Jose, but perhaps some of you, dear readers, live or work in Sunnyvale?

The mayor also suggested San Jose Inside should do more “positive” investigative reporting, such as taking a closer look at Sunnyvale’s Magical Bridge playground. The multi-million dollar project is designed to “ensure Sunnyvale’s 150,000 residents—and the thousands more who visit each year—will have access to the power of play.”

Yes, now more than ever, we need to spend more time investigating the power of play.

Garnett, the city’s $121,000-a-year communications officer, who until last week had avoided months of phone calls from San Jose Inside, said Santana could not make time for an interview after repeated requests.

The reason: She’s too busy getting ready to transition to her new job.

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to josh@metronews.com or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

39 Comments

  1. Jeesh Josh,

    I dunno if you get the same kind of cringe when you read these numbers, but I cringe. I cringe hard.

  2. There’s no free market at work in this supposed bidding war for Ms. Santana’s “talent”. Just an abundance of clueless councilpersons wholly unaccountable for the bad decisions they make.

    Josh, I really appreciate you digging into this type of story.

    • > There’s no free market at work in this supposed bidding war for Ms. Santana’s “talent”.

      Tribalism.

      The government technocrat tribe.

      “Clueless councilpersons” undoubtedly see their next gig as “Deputy Assistant Secretary for Something or Other” in Washington or Sacramento.

    • I always love this attitude: “Gov’t should be more like business”, and then when it does act like the business sector, the old folks scream – Gov’t waste!!!”

      • Who here is saying government should be run more like business.
        A key feature of the private sector is that poorly run businesses fail and disappear. We don’t let that happen to our various governments, nor should we. So that means the natural market forces guarding against overspending have been removed. We can’t rely on the market to do the job so instead we depend on our electeds to spend our money wisely. They are not holding up their end of the bargain in my opinion.

  3. We can be hopeful, but considering her track record, I wouldnt expect to see the lead balloon flying over Levi’s anytime soon.

    She really ripped off the tax-payers in Santa Clara.

  4. Feasting like a pig out of the government trough. One of many dizzying facts in this article, but the fact that a City government would pay $98,000 much for a logo, and not even an appealing one, is terrifying.

  5. You would think a subpar lawyer making $400k a year could pay for her own car and house. But hey we live in a one party system and I’ll bet she’s a paid up party member feeding at the public trough . Onk !

  6. This idiot got a combat veteran permanently disabled and assaulted by law enforcers. She cost the city she ran millions of dollars. This kind of stuff is perfect for Santa Clara. The last shitty on the planet with an elected chief if police. Duh….who answers to who in SC. That place is a pedophiles dream land. .

    • Mr. TED- you may very well be right… but it’s hard to get behind you when you confuse “you’re” and “your”. You wrote a 16-word post. Proofread fella… it’ll help.

      And maybe add something to the discussion… a different perspective, some additional information, etc.. Just howling at the moon makes you more difficult to take… but I am trying. I am a Poodle BTW so …. rub my belly!

      • Really. Your a damn English teacher. Go teach some of our newly minted. English isn’t even spoken around here anymore. Shut up poodle. Dogs aren’t people too. And clean up the dog crap all over the street your poodle drops. and don’t leave the bag in my yard after you do. From. #dogsarenotpeople

    • This has nothing to do with jealousy. It has to do with accountability for public employees.
      Keep writing Josh!

  7. Why do City Managers get paid more than the Governor of California? Don’t tell me there are not qualified people who could do the job for less the $300,000 with benefits. Outrageous that Sunnyvale hired her, shame of Santa Clara for hiring her. For that matter, why do they even have a City Manager in Santa Clara–Lisa runs the place.

    • > Outrageous that Sunnyvale hired her, shame of Santa Clara for hiring her.

      Rich:

      I was outraged first.

      And, I’m MORE outraged than you are.

        • > Wow you and Rich agreeing on something. Is the sky falling?

          Rich was a difficult case, but the conversion finally worked.

          Thanks to all the wonderful white Christian males out there who prayed for the salvation of his immortal soul.

          You should probably say hello to Rich in church this Sunday and give him a hug.

    • Considering you have done everything possible in the past 25 years, even trying to circulate a mailer calling her crazy, one wonders about your effectiveness. Shall we discuss Blupacus, which was akin to the CIA efforts to kill Castro?

    • City managers like Ms. Santana are paid more than the governor for one simple reason: so the City Council can point at her after every fiasco and say, “But we didn’t do it! It wuz the city manager’s fault!”

      She gets paid for taking the heat—for doing the job the electeds were elected to do. Then it’s time to MovOn to the next one-party city government, and spend their taxpayers’ loot. Because in a one-party system they all stick together.

      It’s a racket.

      Any more questions?

  8. Sunnyvale must negotiate a better contract for her successor. It is problematic when your employees take home more pay than their employers. What is the average annual income of Sunnyvale citizens?
    During her tenure, city fees have risen annually with no improvement in service nor morale. Good riddance.
    Hendricks thinks she’s done a fantastic job? The quality of life stinks in Sunnyvale – no parking, overcrowding, gridlock traffic, tall buildings block the sun, not enough water, not enough space for garbage, nor enough teachers, noise at all hours, mandatory fee increases, etc. Meanwhile, longtime residents stand in the breadline at the local churches. How about stopping the construction? Enough is enough. The people who made this place what it was should be allowed to enjoy it.
    Time to clean house in Sunnyvale. The combination of arrogance and ignorance is intolerable.

    • “What is the average annual income of Sunnyvale citizens?” A valid question Robyn.

      Better yet, what’s the average number of pensions they’ll collect? What’s their average car allowance? What’s the average housing allowance for Sunnyvale citizens? What’s the average home loan interest rate offered to Sunnyvale residents by their employer?
      The average number of months Sunnyvale residents must work every year just to fulfill their tax obligation to pay public “servants” like Ms. Santana is 4.6. How many months per year must Ms. Santana work to fulfill her legal obligation to pay you? Answer: 0. Deanna Santana has zero interest in you or in your gridlock or in your lack of sunlight or in your quality of life.
      But don’t feel alone. I’m in San Jose and wouldn’t be surprised if Liccardo, Rocha et al sign up Ms. Santana once she’s done ripping off you Sunnyvalians.

      • Oh. Sorry, I forgot. She’s moved on to Santa Clara. We Sannazayans will have to wait our turn. But we’ll start our stretching exercises now.

  9. Why is it when a city’s tax base and income improves, it starts splurging on its managers when the improved economic condition has nothing to do with any of them? I may just show up in meetings and express what I think about these lavish salaries and perks!!!

  10. good for her. She’s just doing what white men have done for years, they created the system and she’s learned how to play it

    • She’s a mooch. White people learned to mooch from the south. Mooches like this lady taught us well.

    • Yeah but you’re still stuck with the same species of politician that thought hiring her in the first place was a good idea.

  11. Clear example of a pig engorging itself at the public trough. Excellent skill set of feathering one’s own nest and accumulating overlapping bountiful public pensions. Oh and the new unnecessary $98K Sunnyvale city logo.

  12. Concern about our City Managers’ coziness(es) with the Yorks and the Forty-Whiners is always well placed.

    But if we Santa Clarans are deadly serious about getting control over that coziness: Collect signatures and put an initiative on ballots in the city of Santa Clara that bars our Councilmembers from being seated simultaneously on the Santa Clara Stadium Authority.

    Keep the seven seats on our Stadium Authority, stagger their four-year terms by two years, limit their terms to two, and leave them open strictly to residents of the city of Santa Clara who are not on Council or who have been off of the Council for a minimum of two Council/Mayoral terms. (I mean it: Eight years off before you run for a seat on the Stadium Authority.)

    No salaries for Stadium Authority Directors. Instead, set their per diem to no more than a Councilmember gets.

    No luxury-box access or privileges at the Stadium, either.

    Then, reserve four of those seven seats on our Stadium Authority for Santa Clarans who live in Zip Code 95054!

    (That last part ain’t gonna fly and would probably be tossed in the court proceeding which would inevitably follow. There are also huge complications if we rip control over the Stadium Lease out of the hands of our City Council. But I was really on a roll there for a whlle……;-)

    Kidding aside: If you’re serious about curbing sellouts (and selloffs, like the cynical move against our Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park), one way to establish that is to sever the administration of Levi’s Stadium completely from the double-dealing which now seems rampant down on Warburton Drive.

    We do get the government we deserve, no question about that.

    But after three years of this nonsense, we’ve earned something better than that.

    -=0=-

    • MC sez:

      “We do get the government we deserve, no question about that.”

      NO-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-o-o-o-o-o-ooooooo…!!!!

      *ahem* ‘Scuse me, you hit a nerve there…

      Please explain exactly what *I* did to deserve THIS cavalcade of self-serving Whiner sycophants? I certainly didn’t vote for any of them, except for one—and he promptly welshed on the one *explicit* promise he made to me, in a public meeting (for a single limited parking street sign), as a quid pro quo for my ballot & financial support. In the olden daze politicians used to stay bought. But thatwasthenandthisisnow…

      My sniveling/venting aside, I liked your suggestions. And I’m curious: do SJ and SC have an initiative process?

      Because I’m already thinking of a way that taxpayers can save at least …$373,000, a monthly car allowance of $550, five weeks of “management leave” and a monthly housing allowance of $3,750.

      You on board?

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