Santa Barbara Hires New Community Development Czar

Santa Fe Planning and Land Use Director, Former Food Blogger Elias Isaacson Takes Over High-Level Hot Seat

Elias Isaacson | Credit: City of Santa Barbara

The City of Santa Barbara has hired Santa Fe’s Planning and Land Use director and former food blogger Elias Isaacson to take over as City Hall’s community development director, a high-level managerial leadership position whose occupants are forever on the hot seat when it comes to issues of zoning, land use permits, growth, development, housing, and the economic vitality of downtown.

Like Santa Barbara, Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a big little city with a reputation for fussiness when it comes to protecting its historic ambience and cultural amenities. Also like Santa Barbara, Santa Fe relies heavily upon its tourist economy.

Isaacson, who is 41 years old and an architect and land-use consultant by profession, served as land use director only since 2019 and has worked for the City of Santa Fe since 2018.

In the press release issued by Santa Barbara’s City Hall, it’s stated that Isaacson “streamlined internal procedures and adopted innovative practices and policies” despite COVID-imposed budget constraints. During Isaacson’s leadership, Santa Fe reportedly shifted to a completely digital model for land-use permitting.

Isaacson was one of 46 applicants for a post that’s been filled on an interim basis by Rebecca Bjork, the ever-redoubtable former Public Works czar since last June. George Buell was the previous full-time community development director but retired last summer amid an upwelling of discontent from businesses and civic groups about the economic stagnation of State Street and the perceived lack of leadership from Buell’s department in addressing complaints about excessive governmental red tape.

Isaacson takes the helm as Santa Barbara is embarking on several major planning initiatives designed to address Santa Barbara’s chronic housing shortage, affordable or otherwise, and the long-term future of State Street and the Central Business District. He also takes over at a time when four of the seven councilmembers are running for reelection.

Isaacson attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he majored in geography, and earned a master’s degree in urban design from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s in planning from the University of New Mexico.

On social media posts, Isaacson described himself as an avid hiker, fly fisherman, skier, and social gardener who spent time in Mexico and India helping to transform slum dwellings into affordable housing.

Isaacson will be paid $190,000 a year and is scheduled to start work in July.

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