Sachi Hamai, the first Asian American woman to lead L.A. County, announces retirement

Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai listens during a Board of Supervisors meeting in 2015.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Sachi Hamai, the first Asian American woman to lead Los Angeles County’s sprawling government, is retiring as chief executive officer. She will make the announcement on Tuesday afternoon, officials said.

Hamai, a low-key figure known for championing women in leadership and implementing the county’s sales tax hike to tackle homelessness, is leaving after a three-decade career in county government. She plans to step down in early 2020 but didn’t give an exact date.

The announcement means the county’s governing body, the Board of Supervisors, must begin a search for a new CEO to manage a $36-billion budget and a workforce of about 110,000.

Hamai, 53, told the supervisors about her plans on Tuesday morning before the board’s weekly meeting, officials said.

An accountant by training who was born to Japanese American parents who were interned during World War II, Hamai joined L.A. County government in the late 1980s, working for the auditor-controller. She rose through the ranks, eventually serving for several years as the supervisors’ top administrator, before taking over the broader role leading all county employees in an official role in 2015.


Hamai, in a statement, said the job of CEO was the “greatest honor” of her life.

“The county confronts some of society’s toughest issues every day, often on behalf of people who have nowhere else to turn,” she said. “I believe I am leaving the county in better shape than when I started.”

Hamai said she worked to transform the structure of county government, pressing for departments to better coordinate their resources to address the board’s most- pressing priorities, including homelessness, criminal justice reform and healthcare, among others.

She did so with mixed success. Hamai leaves unresolved struggles to reform mental health treatment in the county’s aging central jail, and to prevent scandals that have plagued the child welfare and juvenile probation operations.

During her tenure, a low-level employee in her office’s real estate division pleaded guilty in federal court to a bribery scheme involving a developer seeking a county lease. But by the time federal prosecutors announced charges last year, county officials had already conducted a separate internal investigation and, as a result of the findings, Hamai had restructured the division and developed new ethical standards to prevent corruption.

Hamai leaves the post with a good reputation among many at the county. She has largely avoided public tensions with powerful elected officials, though her office recently led an effort to control spending by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department — an action seen as a rebuke of the independently elected sheriff, Alex Villanueva.


The county also is in a historically strong financial position.

Among Hamai’s signature accomplishments was implementing Measure H, the county’s sales tax initiative, which raises more than $300 million annually to fund services for homeless people. The initiative, she said, has helped tens of thousands of people get into temporary and permanent supportive housing.

Hamai, an avid runner who serves on the board of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, hasn’t announced her future plans, saying only that she’s leaving government service.