Rob Dayton | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Last Friday, Santa Barbara City Hall officially announced the retirement of longtime transportation planning czar Rob Dayton — an enthusiastic, charismatic, and effective proponent of alt-transit programs and infrastructure projects — in the wake of religious discrimination allegations Dayton, an evangelical Christian, had made.

Dayton — one of the more public-facing personalities within City Hall — mysteriously ceased showing up for work early this summer after City Councilmember Kristen Sneddon made inquiries with City Attorney Ariel Calonne about Dayton’s involvement with Believer’s Edge, an all-male, faith-based organization dedicated to changing the political culture of the community. 

Dayton, a 30-year employee of City Hall, was reportedly confronted by at least one planning commissioner about his beliefs, as well; two other councilmembers reportedly discussed the issue. 

Dayton never made a secret about his religious beliefs, but he also never made a secret about his impatience about moving up the City Hall food chain. He applied for the position of community development director when George Buell retired last year and didn’t get it. Likewise, he had reportedly applied for the economic development director position — and didn’t get that — and subsequently sought a position to oversee State Street’s redevelopment. 

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Dayton played a pivotal role in implementing the State Street promenade in response to the COVID pandemic; he was also the city official most responsible for the rollout of BCycles, the flotilla of electric rental bikes. 

Dayton clashed with members of the Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) and those in the preservationist community over these changes. Councilmember Sneddon upbraided Dayton from the council dais for going around the HLC. 

Dayton hired an attorney and threatened legal action, alleging his promotional opportunities had been improperly blocked because of his religious beliefs. Privately, many councilmembers have expressed vexation that Sneddon broached Dayton’s religious beliefs with the city attorney; on the other hand, they noted, Dayton had, in fact, been promoted many times and his religious beliefs had never been an issue. 

Dayton’s close friendship with high-profile developer Ed St. George, who had threatened to lead a recall campaign against Dayton’s boss, City Administrator Paul Casey, some said, might not have helped his cause.

In the end, however, the council approved a settlement deal with Dayton for an unspecified amount that, which when combined with his accrued vacation time, was reportedly in the ballpark of half a million dollars.

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