Executive Director, Capitol Area Development Authority
One of the highlights of Wendy Saunders’ career happened in December 2019. Her staff asked the board of directors of the Capitol Area Development Agency to accept a resolution thanking the board for hiring her. The resolution, signed by her managers, praised Saunders as a “true leader who creates a work environment where staff is heard and appreciated” and recognized her for offering an open-door policy.
“It was the nicest thing that’s ever happened to me,” says Saunders, who has been CADA’s executive director since 2013.
CADA’s mission as a joint powers authority between the state government and the City of Sacramento is to make housing in the area around the Capitol more affordable and manage and develop residential and commercial properties. It manages 750 apartment units and 50 buildings, and the rent from those properties make up the majority of the organization’s $10 million annual operating budget. Saunders also oversees a staff of 50.
“We are the conduit for turning surplus state properties into housing,” she says, adding 25 percent of that housing has to be affordable. In addition to housing, CADA’s recent projects include improvements along the R Street Corridor, developing the Fremont Park area, and building Truitt Bark Park for dogs at 19th and Q streets.
Saunders grew up in Ventura, graduated from UC Santa Barbara and received her MBA from UC Davis. She worked in economic development and redevelopment for the City of Sacramento for 13 years and one year in Stockton before joining CADA in 2013. “When I first got here, the state was in bad financial condition, so they were trying to take us apart,” she says. “I put together a plan. So I did save the agency, I think.”
One of CADA’s projects for 2020 is an apartment complex with 56 micro units (270 square feet) at 13th and O streets. “It’s housing for people who don’t have roofs over their heads,” Saunders says. “It’s a trendy idea. We thought it was worth taking a risk because it’s a small project.”
Saunders says she is most proud of completing the R Street Corridor improvements, bringing affordable apartments to downtown and finding artists to paint transformer boxes around the city. She also led the renovation of CADA’s aging office, which is now open space, highlighted with bright, colorful chairs and artwork.
“When you love what you do, it encourages people to want to be part of the team,” Saunders says. “I consider all of us to be partners in this endeavor here at CADA. I hope my enthusiasm for what we do influences how others feel about their work.”
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