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Miguel Santana: Dispenser of wisdom — and millions

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Miguel Santana
Miguel Santana, photographed at the Los Angeles Times in El Segundo on Oct. 5.

When L.A.’s civic leaders are confronted with a financial problem, a hiring challenge or even a full-blown humanitarian crisis, they turn to Miguel Santana for help.

And with good reason. At 25, he was an aide to the legendary L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, giving her policy briefings on immigration and affirmative action — issues that roiled the state in the mid-1990s.

Discover the changemakers who are shaping every cultural corner of Los Angeles. This week we bring you The Connectors, who understand that power doesn’t travel in a straight line and know how to connect the dots. Come back each Sunday for another installment.

Fifteen years later, he was the top budget advisor to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, laying out painful proposals for erasing a crushing shortfall.

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Much more recently, Santana helped newly elected Mayor Karen Bass put together her City Hall team, while also serving as a sounding board on the issue of homelessness.

Sarah Dusseault, who served with Santana on the Bass transition team, said he is a rare voice in L.A. — someone willing to deliver unpleasant news to those in power, even if it makes them uncomfortable.

“A lot of people are fearful that being candid doesn’t get you invited back,” she said.

In October, he also took over the top leadership post of the California Community Foundation, which gives out more than $300 million in grants each year.

Santana’s reach only continues to expand.

He is in his fourth year as chairman of the Angeleno Project, a coalition of civic leaders that focuses on the housing crisis, racism and other issues. In October, he also took over the top leadership post of the California Community Foundation, which gives out more than $300 million in grants each year, much of it to nonprofit groups in Los Angeles County.

The move put Santana — a son of Mexican immigrants, raised in Bell Gardens — in a position to focus on issues close to his heart: education, the arts, immigrant rights and homelessness.

Miguel Santana
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The foundation has been playing a pivotal role in the city’s effort to welcome and assist busloads of migrants expelled from Texas by Gov. Greg Abbott. Working with immigrant justice groups, Santana said, the foundation has helped to ensure that those refugees received humanitarian aid and were connected with relatives in the United States.

Santana, 54, wants to expand on the foundation’s education work, by ensuring that students who go into the workforce directly from high school get the training they need to secure high-quality jobs.

He recently helped to form LA4LA, a group working to boost the production of affordable housing. He’s also pushing for an increase in the sales tax that pays for services to the county’s homeless population.

Whether or not either of those efforts proves to be successful, Santana sounds determined to keep weighing in.

After all, he said: “I’ve been in the advice business my whole career.”

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