New Planner

by Martha Sadler

Things haven’t been quite the same since the Board of Supervisors, having gained a conservative majority, shoved all the county’s planning functions under the umbrella of Chief Executive Officer Michael Brown’s office a couple of years ago. This precipitated an exodus of senior planning staff as Comprehensive Planning — a hotbed of environmental activists — was stripped of its department status and made answerable directly to Brown, while Planning and Development was handed over to Brown’s deputy, Ron Cortez. On Tuesday, the board welcomed Brown’s choice for a new, but temporary, director of the Planning and Development Department, John S. Baker. Baker is expected to lead the department’s 132 full-time employees toward efficient customer service — the issue of service having long been a sore point among builders and renovators of even the greenest projects. Baker is being hired on a yearlong contract because the county’s extensive recruitment for a new permanent planning director came up empty, according to Brown, attracting people with “vastly less experience resolving complicated land-use issues than those that regularly confront Santa Barbara County.” Brown explained that Baker, as a retiree, does not need healthcare or any other benefits from the county, making his $175,000 contract a bargain. Baker began his career as the deputy city manager for Oakland 30 years ago, and served as Ventura’s city manager in the 1980s. As a cofounder and former president of Management Partners, Inc., Baker — according to Brown — is an expert in audits geared toward enhancing service delivery, and has extensive experience in team building, communication techniques, and other skills “greatly in demand in a changing organization,” Brown said. Brown added that he didn’t ask Baker what his land-use philosophies are, but said Baker is “not controversial that I know of; he’s an apolitical professional not beholden to any faction.”

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