Retiring a few days ago, Anita Sanchez is the highest ranking and longest-serving government employee of the city and county of San Francisco. She lives to serve people, to empower them so that they can contribute in making the world a better place.
Former Mayor Art Agnos praised Anita by saying that ” her greatest contribution [is] empowering people who had no power, so that they could feel that they were paid attention to when they had a problem.”
On June 29, the day Anita retired after 30 years in public service. Three mayors led a big group of people to honor the well-loved Pinay, who was San Francisco City Government’s only department head at that time. The mayors declared that Friday “Anita Sanchez Day.”
As Executive Director of the San Francisco Civil Service Commission, Anita was in charge of overseeing the merit system for the employment of the city’s 25,000 employees.
In a report by ABS-CBN, the current mayor of San Francisco, Ed Lee, stated that he will always look to Anita Sanchez as his mentor. “When I first began in Art Agnos’ administration, there was somebody that had to hold my hand and teach me a lot of things that I didn’t know, let me understand how the system worked because she was there before I was. And that person that I confided in a lot was Anita Sanchez,” said Lee.
Origins and education
Born in the Philippines, Anita Hubines Sanchez immigrated to San Francisco with her family in 1960 when she was 10 years old. Her father, Bonifacio Sanchez, served in the US Navy and then brought his whole family to California, where he secured a job in the US Postal Service in San Francisco.
Even in her teen years, Anita’s passion was to empower people. She studied at the San Francisco State University, where she joined an activist group that successfully pushed for the creation of a School of Ethnic Studies — one that would offer classes like Philippine history and culture.
A good friend of Anita, Rodel Rodis, wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer that while in college, Anita encouraged her fellow students to “go out and serve the community.”
Committed to the community
She was heavily involved in the community and organized the United Filipino Youth Organization (UFYO) with a modest grant from the Real Alternative Program (RAP). Anita set up a storefront on 14th and Valencia in the Mission District for young Fil-Am high school kids to hang out. When any of her kids would get in trouble with the law, Anita would go to Juvenile Hall and speak with them and with their probation officers to work out a probation plan to secure their release.
“The hardest part was often dealing with disappointed Filipino parents who would turn their backs on their kids just when their kids needed them the most,” she recounted.
“Many of the parents believed in the foolish notion that their kids should spend time in jail to teach them a lesson,” Anita said.
Anita explained to the parents that exposing their kids to hard-core criminals in jail would teach them lessons alright, but not the kind that would rehabilitate them.
Anita is credited with lobbying before California accrediting agencies to recognize the college degrees of Foreign Medical Graduates (FMG). Then San Francisco Assemblyman Art Agnos was so impressed with her advocacy work that he offered her a job as his aide, which she accepted.
Through her work in the California Assembly, Anita was able to secure the passage of legislation that benefited the Filipino community and other communities.
Anita also worked as Special Assistant for Administration of Mayor Dianne Feinstein in San Francisco. When Art Agnos succeeded Feinstein, Anita was appointed Director of his Mayor’s Citizens’
Rodis recalled that Anita helped empower Pinoys in Agnos’ administration. Filipinos were appointed as department heads and city commissioners and funding was given for Filipino community programs like the West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center and for the Filipino American Council to purchase a building on 17th Street in the Mission to house the Filipino Senior Citizens Center.
A hardworking public servant
” It was the golden age of Filipino empowerment in San Francisco and it inspired Fil-Ams throughout the Bay Area to seek to also empower themselves. None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for Anita’s guidance and her behind-the-scenes influence on Mayor Agnos,” said Rodis.
After Agnos lost his bid for re-election 1991, Anita went across the Bay to work as Chief of Staff of Oakland Assemblywoman Barbara Lee from 1993 to 1996.
In 1997, she returned to San Francisco to work as Assistant Executive Officer of the City’s Civil Service Commission. In that same year, she rose to the top post, where she has served until her retirement this month.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who has personally known Anita for more than 30 years, has described her as “one of the hardest working public servants committed to policies and procedures that impact thousands of San Franciscans.”
Still going strong, Anita’s passion to help better communities has not waned a bit. She is committed to continue her advocacy to help empower people. As she has often stressed time and again, aspiring for a better community is work that’s never really done.