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From Cuba To Brentwood: Journey Of A Life

02 March 2016 Written by  By Gustavo “Gus” Vina
Published in March 2016 Articles

I was born in 1960 in Havana, Cuba.

My grandparents were from Spain. Dad was an accountant; Mom taught chemistry. Castro and his band of ruthless rebels were overthrowing the government so my parents grabbed a few belongings, loaded their infant son on a ship, and headed for America. They had to take the long way around because they couldn’t get into America without a visa and couldn’t get a visa in Cuba, so they sailed for Spain.

I had my first birthday on board that vessel.
It took ten months in Spain before the bureaucratic wheels finally ground out the coveted visa, and we entered America, as so many generations of travelers had done before us, through the Ellis Island immigration facility. We spent four impoverished years in Miami until a Baptist Church from Carmichael, California finally sponsored our family for resettlement. My parents had to choose between Waco, Texas and Sacramento. Fortunately, they made the right choice. We settled in Sacramento and dad got a job cleaning aircraft at McClelland AFB. I have always been impressed with those Baptists because, even though we were Catholic, they made no attempt to woo us to their religious philosophy but went to extraordinary lengths to help us — providing clothes, housing, and food for as long as it took to get us back on our feet.

A few years later, my grandparents followed us to Sacramento and Grandfather, who had been a pharmacist in Cuba, began working as a janitor in Carmichael, cleaning the floors and pews of the Baptist Church that sponsored us.

I was five years old when my family arrived in Sacramento and spent the next 47 years there. Following high school, I attended UC Davis and enrolled in a pre-veterinarian course. I had been reading James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small and decided to follow in his footsteps. But I didn’t follow very far because by the time the first year was over I decided that Animal Science was not my calling after all, so I transferred to Sac State and enrolled in Business Administration with a Finance concentration.

I had met Theresa Maestretti at Valley High in Sacramento. We were in the same class, had friends in common, but never really had much contact with each other until we were in college together and ran into each other at the birthday party of a mutual friend. We were surprised to see each other. My surprise turned to pleasure and affection when she brought me a glass of juice. We had a pleasant conversation that turned to the subject of carpooling. We discovered that we were following a similar schedule in school, so we began carpooling together. One thing led to another, as it probably has in other ride-sharing situations, and we were married two years later, on October 5, 1980. Following marriage, I began attending school part-time and got a fulltime position working for the State of California as a Clerk-Typist in the State Treasurer’s office. I quickly moved into the budget side of the house, which is where my real interests lay and spent the next nine years working for the State. At one time or another, I worked for the Department of Treasury, the Forestry, Youth Authority, and the State Lottery, I graduated in 1988, enrolled in a Master’s Program with the University of San Francisco, and graduated in 1993 with a Masters of Public Administration.

I enjoyed public service but finally decided to move into local government. While working on my graduate degree, I took a position with the City of Stockton, beginning as a Budget Analyst for the Police Department and worked my way into the City Manager’s office. I worked on a number of projects and discovered first-hand how local government operated. By the time I left, I was the Assistant Finance Director for the City of Stockton. I was still living in Sacramento and was looking for opportunities to serve in my own community. In 1999, I was hired as the Finance Director for the City of Sacramento and worked my way up to the position of Assistant Manager. I worked five years in that position, served for a year as Interim City Manager, and in 2011 took the position of City Manager for Encinitas, California, which is a city of 60,000 people located 100 miles south of Los Angeles. Encinitas is a lovely city with picturepostcard beautiful beaches and nice weather. But I missed the Northern California society. Plus, most of our family is in Sacramento. Following four years of happy service in Encinitas, an industry recruiter, Bobbi Peckham, contacted me. She began by saying, “I know you are super happy in the beautiful city of Encinitas, but I have a position in Northern California that you really need to look into.” I had visited Brentwood years before and could recall the rolling countryside and farmlands but wasn’t familiar with the downtown. I went online and did a lot of research into Brentwood’s history, demographics, transportation system, business climate, school system, and government. I discovered that I liked everything I found. Theresa and I made several trips to the area and our first experiences richly confirmed the positive impressions from my online investigations. I discovered the city was clean and had a nicely laid out, quaint downtown area. The city is surrounded by U-Picks that make the area’s incredible produce — corn, vegetables, and fruit — accessible to everyone. We were pleased that Brentwood’s location is ideal, since it is an hour’s drive from San Francisco and from the Wine Country, two hours from the Monterey Peninsula, and three hours from the Sierra Nevada ski slopes. I got a good feeling from my initial meetings with the council and also felt good about the direction the council was taking the City and about what they expected from the new City Manager.

I signed the contract in December 2014 but didn’t start working until mid-January. My first year on the job was a satisfying experience, during which I instituted some serious initiatives.

The work is just getting started; Brentwood is in for some amazing times of renewal.

Just wait and see what’s going to happen!

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