The Public Service Path Less Traveled

James Butler

Things seem to always work a little differently for me, but the results are of the sweetest kind. Even though I am a Cal-in-Sacramento Fellow, I am not spending my summer in Sacramento. I am not working with a senator on some interesting bill that would open health care exchanges for undocumented Americans. There is no 90+ degree weather that binds my suit to me with a perspiry adhesive. I’m missing all of the state-level California legislative action. Instead, I am right where I should be, in Los Angeles with my daughter, working at the local level in the Los Angeles City Administrative Office, and helping to craft policy that impacts my hometown.

My last semester at Berkeley was an emotional Ferris Wheel whose revolutions alternated my zeniths and nadirs at moment’s notice. The most relevant example is my acceptance into the Cal-In-Sacramento Fellowship. I worked hard to get letters of recommendation, refining my personal statements, and practicing for my interview. Obviously, my efforts paid off. My zeal and excitement temporarily overshadowed the sadness and depression I was feeling about being away from my daughter and my declining financial situation. By the time the semester had ended and we were all preparing to move to Sacramento for the summer, I had been away from my two and a half year old daughter for almost two years. My first year at Berkeley I was able to visit her monthly, but I could no longer afford to do so. It was bittersweet to see her grow because I could not be there in person. Only being able to catch glimpses of your child develop takes a toll on you. The only way I coped was by telling myself that my current success would benefit her future. It worked and, simultaneously, it pained.

As the beginning of my Sacramento internship grew closer, I found myself becoming more and more depressed about having to be away from my child any longer. I confided in the fellowship staff and was ready to leave the fellowship in order to move back to Los Angeles to be with my daughter, but instead, the staff wanted to help me explore other options. It was an exhaustive journey that required more interviews and applications, but when I was offered a position in the LA City Administrative Office (CAO) I felt as if this was destiney. I would be able to be with my daughter while also spending the summer working in public service like all of the other Cal-in-Sacramento Fellows.

The City Administrative Officer, Miguel A. Santana, is the chief financial advisor to the Mayor and the City Council. The office helps him to conduct studies and investigations, carry out research and make recommendations on a wide variety of City management matters for the Mayor and Council. The CAO also assists the Mayor and Council in the preparation of the City budget, plans and directs the administration of the budget and directs the development of work programs and standards.

At the CAO, I am working with a group of people who are dedicated to implementing the Comprehensive Homeless Strategy. Growing up in Los Angeles, I have seen the plight of homeless people. Like everyone, I felt sorry for them; I gave them change or food and carried on with my life. As I got older, I started understanding the nuances of homelessness and the factors that caused it, like mental illness and the displacement and neglect of veterans. The Comprehensive Homeless Strategy focuses on finding a solution to homelessness by looking at the intricate issues involved. It covers a wide array of homelessness related issues, such as locating affordable housing and portable showers, to proper protection of the LGBTQ and women homeless populations, who face far more complicated issues.

Being a part of this department has been truly fulfilling. Everything that has to do with LA City legislature has to come through the CAO. I have learned so much about local politics in a matter of weeks, and it has become more apparent that local politics is where real change must occur, including grass roots organizations and nonprofits. The interconnectedness of city politics was obscure to me initially, but being able to witness something of high magnitude like the Comprehensive Homeless Strategy come to fruition has given me a greater respect for the work our city government does.

All in all, I am grateful for the journey that led me to the CAO. It has helped me shape my plans for the future and I intend to gain more knowledge about the inner workings of Los Angeles to hopefully become a political figure in this great city.