In 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession, then-mayor Antonio Villaraigosa tapped Miguel A. Santana, former deputy CEO of Los Angeles County, to be the city administrative officer. It was a tough time to be the guy who handles the money. “Google my name and ‘deficit,’ ” he says. “You’ll come up with a lot.” Back then, Santana’s task as financial strategist was to propose a budget that recommended steep cutbacks, including slashing 4,000 local government jobs. He didn’t win any popularity contests (fortunately for him, his job is appointed), but he did earn a peerless reputation as head money manager—a role he continues under Mayor Eric Garcetti and the 15 members of the city council. With L.A. on an economic upswing, Santana is now tasked with improving chronic quality-of-life issues, from crumbling streets to the growing homelessness epidemic.
In September the Los Angeles City Council declared a homelessness “state of emergency,” with a $100 million commitment. Santana’s unenviable challenge is coming up with that coin. “If we put money toward homelessness, it means we don’t have it to go to something else. I identify the trade-offs. When the budget is announced on April 20, as it is every year, it’s the mayor’s budget, not mine. But I give my best advice.”
Santana’s second-most significant goal is cementing the plan—finally!—for L.A.’s broken and hazardous sidewalks.
“It’s hard to believe that a city of our size, founded in the 1700s, doesn’t have a comprehensive policy. Hopefully within this calendar year we’re going to establish it. My office laid out our best recommendation: that we share the responsibility with property owners. If you live in a single-family home, the city first fixes the sidewalk for you and certifies it, and then in 20 or 30 years, when it needs repair, it’s the owners’ responsibility.”
Santana is a frequent user of the city’s service request line, 311, and thinks you should be, too.
“I walked to work today, and there was graffiti near Angels Flight. I went on my 311 app, took a picture of it, sent it out, and hopefully in a few days it will be cleaned up. I never say that it’s me. My job is to make sure it gets fixed for everybody, no matter who you are, so I like to test the system.”
His blue-sky prediction for L.A.’s economic future? We’ll soon be in the black.
“I think this will be L.A.’s decade. When people look back on 2015—and 2016 and 2017—they’ll look at it as the height of L.A.’s renaissance. Next year we hope to have a deficit of around $90 million, and after that we hope to have no deficit at all. We may actually start experiencing surpluses.”