Note: This new assessment prompted San Jose Inside to take a fresh look at two years of compensation for employees in California cities.
On July 17, San Jose Inside reported that Santa Clara City Manager Deanna Santana was the second highest paid city manager in California. A fresh look at her half-million-dollar salary in 2019, shows that she’s actually in first position on the state’s list of highest-paid city managers—for the second year in a row.
Controller Betty Yee’s revised June 30 Government Compensation in California report included departing employees whose compensation was inflated from lump-sum payments of accrued sick or vacation time, severance pay or contract settlements. Excluding those inflated totals bumped Santa Clara’s Santana to the top of the list.
The annual compensation study showed that Santana, a former Oakland city administrator, earned more last year than her counterparts in similar-sized Sunnyvale, pricey Palo Alto and all other city managers in the state, based on the survey of nearly 332,000 employees in 474 California cities.
A San Jose Inside examination of the controller’s data showed one city manager, in Montebello in Los Angeles County, was paid more cash than Santana in 2019, but three-fourths of that money was due to a severance package.
In 2018, Santana also earned the highest compensation among all California city managers. City managers in Alameda, Gardena, Lancaster, Moreno Valley, Redlands and Riverside received more money in 2018, but all of these included lucrative severance or retirement packages rather than salaries.
The $501,457 that Santana reported in wages, allowance and bonuses in 2019 also topped the compensation for Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith, who supervises 25,000 employees. Smith, who has both medical and law degrees, earned $373,748 in 2019.
In addition to her compensation for a salary, housing allowance and bonuses, Santa Clara paid $141,279 into Santana’s retirement plan, and paid $27,544 in health insurance premiums, plus deferred compensation of $39,166, which pushed the Santa Clara city manager’s total compensation package to $709,446.
Early this year, she received an 11 percent pay increase for 2020.
Santana wasn’t the only Santa Clara city employee whose wages placed among the state’s best-paid in 2019. In Mission City, with a population of nearly 130,000 and 1,920 city employees, 28 employees earned more than $300,000 in 2019. More than 250 Santa Clara city employees—nearly 13 percent of the workforce—earned more than $200,000 in 2019, according to Yee’s report.
Membership in the city’s 300K Club nearly doubled last year, as the number of employees with $300,000-plus annual salaries grew from 15 to 28. The biggest wage payout in 2019 was to departing Police Chief Michael Sellers, who collected back vacation and sick pay on top of his salary when he resigned in September, for a total of $585,363.
Santa Clara’s 300K Club included 10 police officers, seven workers in the city-owned electric utility, five fire department officers, and three of Santana’s staffers in the city manager’s office. Not included in the manager’s office $300,000-per-year employees were two assistant city managers who were hired after the state controller reporting date.
In addition to the police and fire departments, Santa Clara’s unique city-owned utility occupies a big portion of the city payroll, especially in higher-paid positions.
One technician earned $453,691 in 2019, and one line worker was paid $407,666, according to Yee’s report. Chief Electric Utility Officer Manuel Pineda was paid $376,494 and one of his ‘troubleshooters’ was paid $336,566. Another 22 electric utility technicians were paid between $200,000 and $300,000 in 2019.
In addition to three assistant city managers with annual salaries topping $300,000, Santana reported two “assistant to the city manager” staff positions with salaries of $227,967 and $215,027.
Santana lost a $3,750 monthly housing allowance in October 2019, but the City Council voted early this year to give her an 11 percent raise in her base pay, to $448,492. Santana also was flown to Europe at city expense for a conference.
When Santa Clara CouncilmanRaj Chahal cast the only “no” vote for Santana’s 2020 raise, he told his colleagues, “I do not think it is prudent to spend this type of money on this type of contract. Our compensation package is way, way more than any city.”
Santana has multiple administrative duties, serving not only as head of the administrative branch of the city, but also oversees the city's electric utility, Silicon Valley Power, and acts as the executive director of the Santa Clara Stadium Authority.
Lenka Wright, the city’s $229,000-per-year public information officer, released this statement: “An effective and experienced city manager is critical for a city organization, especially when navigating a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. City Manager Santana’s total compensation is reflective of the responsibilities that come with being the top administrator for a complex organization in one of the most expensive regions not only in the state, but the country. The City of Santa Clara is a more complex agency than most other local government agencies of our size. The city has four distinct lines of business: the Santa Clara Stadium Authority, the Santa Clara Convention Center, an electric utility—Silicon Valley Power, and regular municipal services. As of Oct. 1, 2019, City Manager Santana is no longer receiving a monthly housing allowance per her amended employment agreement.”
Santana was hired in late 2017 for $373,000 from Sunnyvale, where she had been the top administrator for three years. She previously worked as city administrator in Oakland and on the San Jose city staff.
Palo Alto and Redwood City ranked in the top 20 California cities in average annual wage per employee, at $86,665 and $87,071, respectively in 2019. Santa Clara ranked 24th, with an average annual pay of $84,103 per employee.
Salary data for 2019 for San Jose and Campbell, required by law since 2010, were not included in Yee’s report because they were “non-compliant.’ The two cities submitted wage data in 2018, and expect to send in revised data for 2019 this summer.