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.