Santa Ana City Manager Criticized for Awarding Executive Bonuses

Adam Elmahrek/Voice of OC

During happier times in 2013, Santa Ana City Manager David Cavazos shakes hands with Mayor Miguel Pulido while Councilwoman Michele Martinez looks on.

The city of Santa Ana is in a far better place financially than it was just a few years ago when, in the wake of the Great Recession, officials were openly talking about the possibility of bankruptcy.

And after a long period of belt-tightening, all city employees received pay raises of 2.5 percent last year and another 2.5 percent this July.

But top executives have received an even sweeter deal, with extra 5-percent “performance bonuses” going to City Manager David Cavazos’ seven highest-ranking deputies. The bonus program has drawn the ire of the city’s rank-and-file labor groups, as well as Councilwoman Michele Martinez.

“[It’s] not equitable, and it’s not fair,” said Martinez, who has frequently clashed with Cavazos, in an interview this week.

Martinez said she believes top executives do deserve a bonus for the “extra and extraordinary work” that they do. “But we also have to keep in mind at the same time our lower-level employees are doing their best job as well, and we’re not giving them any bonus pay.”

Leaders of the city’s two largest labor groups – who together represent over 90 percent of the workforce – criticized the bonuses in statements to Voice of OC.

“We’re disappointed to learn that the hard earned tax dollars of Santa Ana residents have gone towards incentives and bonuses for highly paid top officials instead of the vital city services our community needs,” said Mike Lopez, president of the Santa Ana chapter of Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents almost all rank-and-file workers at the city from librarians to city planners.

Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, said top officials should be “absolutely leading by example” when it comes to pay increases.

“When the city manager preaches equality…why is it that it’s not practiced at every level?” he asked.

In response to the criticism, Cavazos said rank-and-file workers have benefits that executives don’t, like 5-percent “step” increases during each of their first five years, as well as overtime pay.

“Overtime pay is not available to executives and managers. The one time performance bonus for an executive and Police Manager is not carried forward to the next year,” Cavazos wrote in an email to Voice of OC, noting that police managers are the other group that receives performance bonuses.

He added that awarding performance bonuses to executives and manager is a practice in Santa Ana dating back to the 1990s.

“The system is fair but not perfect (eg. Overtime for some and not others) in my view and we are open to changes in compensation philosophy as part of collective bargaining,” Cavazos wrote. “We very much appreciate the work of all our employees and believe the 5 percent across the board [cost of living pay increases] was well deserved.”

The bonuses were not given out during the recession, and then re-instated a month before Cavazos was hired in September 2013 by then-interim City Manager Kevin O’Rourke, according to Ed Raya, the city’s personnel director.

O’Rourke granted 7.5-percent bonuses to all executive managers at the time, and Cavazos provided 5-percent bonuses in 2014 and 2015.

Raya provided a list of the executive bonus amounts and percentages for 2015, which were based on a 15-month salary period from Sept. 1, 2014 through Nov. 30, 2015. Here is a rundown of who received the bonuses, how much their bonuses were, and their current salary.

  • Carlos Rojas, police chief: $14,746 bonus. Current salary: $232,860.
  • Francisco Gutierrez, executive director of finance and management services: $11,417 bonus. Current salary: $181,908.
  • Gerardo Mouet, exec. dir. of recreation and community services: $11,417 bonus. Current salary: $181,908.
  • Farhad Mousavipour, exec. dir. of public works: $11,168 bonus. Current salary: $186,456.
  • Edward Raya, exec. dir. of personnel services: $10,474 bonus. Current salary: $164,784.
  • Kelly Reenders, exec. dir. of community development: $10,175 bonus. No longer with the city, but the current salary for that position is $164,784.
  • Robert Cortez, special assistant to the city manager: $5,780 bonus. Current salary: $177,456.
  • Hassan Haghani, exec. dir. of planning and building safety: $2,562 bonus (2.5 percent bonus because he was hired halfway through year). Current salary: $200,796.

Last year’s bonuses total $77,740. Lopez, the union leader, suggested such funding could be better used on community services, like repairing sidewalks and addressing the growing homeless population at the Civic Center.

“These present real public safety concerns – from proper staffing at the community spaces where our families gather, to the hundreds of used hypodermic needles littering the space around the permanent homeless encampment just a stone’s throw from City Hall. Clearly, our city’s priorities are off,” Lopez said.

Martinez was the only council member who spoke with Voice of OC about the executive bonuses.

Pulido and councilmen David Benavides and Sal Tinajero didn’t return voicemails seeking comment. Calls to council members Angelica Amezcua and Roman Reyna led to messages saying their voicemail boxes were full.

Councilman Vincent Sarmiento told a Voice of OC reporter that he would try his best to follow up later, but didn’t.

Cavazos, who made over $450,000 in total compensation last year, himself received a “performance bonus” of 5 percent, or $17,000, in January. In giving him the bonus, council members said they were rewarding Cavazos for the city’s return to financial stability after the Great Recession years.

Martinez and Pulido were the only no votes against the bonus for Cavazos.

At a meeting last December, Martinez spoke against the executive bonuses, saying that after the performance bonuses, giving executives the 5-percent citywide raise – as requested by Cavazos at that meeting – would be unfair to rank-and-file employees.

While a majority of council members voted for the item, Reyna was the only one to speak in support of it. He said Cavazos has been doing “phenomenal” work for the city, including getting grants that have brought in “millions of dollars” into the community.

“Through his leadership, our city is very different today,” Reyna said. “I truly believe that this is taking our city into a better direction.”

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at

  • 0_0

    They are rotten and corrupt losers, but they are our rotten, corrupt losers.

  • OCservant_Leader

    This is organized crime at work. Watch and learn.


    Michelle Martinez, thank you for making affordable housing more available for those who abuse the system collecting food stamps/wic/general relief/. These are the individuals who qualify for housing. Individuals who work in the public sector and serve this individuals can’t even qualify for housing because they make more than the max limit housing allows, but at the same time. Can’t afford a decent apartment to live in because its just too darn expensive here in the O.C. So vieja ceba, tell me, how are you helping with making this city more packed than roaches under your sink. Que nos vez?cara de pend?? What you need to work on, is stop pretending in supporting the community and all this mumbo jumbo you spit from your bocota, cachetes de guajolote. Why don’t you work on going street by street in santa ana your old hood and go door to door to those homes whom place cones out in the street to reserve parking and cite them with fines! You only serve yourself and those whom feel so privileged that live in the Floral park area. You can’t even park in front of one of those homes, because the owner will cry because your blocking his yard. This city is going down the #$%^&* thx to people like Michelle. I grew up here, and this city was not this jam packed, as it is now. Back then, less traffic, less people, and this was only 35 years ago. Now when I’m off and I want to go to the car wash on first street at around 9:30 a.m., it’s packed and I’m just stuck saying, “Where are all this people coming from, don’t they work? Everywhere you go, there’s lines. Before I was in and out at a 7 eleven within 5 min, now? JesusChrist there is a line all the time. This city is over POPULATED and will get worse and if the lord gives me the years to retire. I’m going to have to leave this tijuanita of a city. City ojetes have done nothing, to better this city. I don’t see any kind of improvement. All they do is talk talk talk talk, bola de ……..

  • LFOldTimer

    If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times….
    The reason government is so messed up is because no one is held accountable for financial blunders or wasting money. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Managers are rewarded for wasting money. Subordinates know this. At the end of the fiscal year if there is agency money left over in the annual budget the managers will encourage the workers to find ways to spend it so a bigger budget can be requested and acquired for the subsequent fiscal year.
    If private businesses operated in such a manner the owners would be standing before a man wearing a black robe in bankruptcy court begging for mercy.
    It’s disgusting to any human being raised to respect efficiency and consideration for other people’s money. There just aren’t that many of us left in this society.

  • Steve Downing

    Government is not a for profit industry. They are acting like overtime is a perk. It is not. If the job can be managed without overtime there should be none. Managers know there is no overtime pay when they take the job. The job is more secure because they do not have to show a profit. What “performance’ are we talking about. AND the biggest question is, where does a city manager get the authority to hand out bonuses without council approval – or does he have it? If he does, that too is criminal.

    • Rose Tingle

      Steve, City managers in Orange county have a lot of power. In fact, they make decisions without consulting the city council members or getting feedback from the constituents. A blatant example is what occurred with the 75 year old Orange County animal shelter. Assistant city managers answer to city managers. Six assistant city managers sat in on “secret” meetings every month at the shelter for at least 8 years and meanwhile the county animal shelter deteriorated to the point of receiving 5 Orange county Grand Jury reports and a negative County performance audit, law suits and on and on. Did these assistant city managers report back to their city councils, no! Did they do anything to improve the conditions at the shelter, NO. Then when the county finally got around to committing to replacing the old shelter, the Garden Grove city manager tells their city council members how good the service from the county has been (regardless of the Orange county grand jury reports. What!?) In addition, Lake Forest city manager gets a bonus even though constituents continually complain about his lack of action on city issues, including what the city manager allowed to happen at the county shelter. By the way, Santa Ana has had the second highest amount of animals killed at the county shelter every year. The assistant city managers have continued to have “secret” meetings on the county animal shelter and banning constituents from attending.

      • Judy Allen

        Makes me sick to my stomach….8 years of monthly “secret” meetings while hundreds, maybe thousands of dogs and cats were murdered. AND “no kill” is the change we strive for in running “shelters”. These people have to go and I want my tax dollars back….

        • Rose Tingle

          Judy, team work is needed to bring the shelter to a No Kill condition. Unfortunately, the county (Orange County Board of Supervisors) has banned the public or any constituent for that matter, from attending the “secret meetings” held with the City Managers Association Animal Care Committee formerly known as the FOAB committee. I recently emailed the Orange County Division, League of California Cities about the need for teamwork.

  • David Zenger

    This is how you build loyalty around you. Unfortunately, it’s real easy when it isn’t your money.

    Given the amount of salary and benefits these people haul in, the people of Santa Ana should expect “uncompensated” O/T and real hard work, too.

    • Judy Allen

      Their salaries are outlandish!