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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