“I realized early on in life that I see things from a broad perspective, and I enjoy seeing how all the dots connect,” says Paul Casey, who serves with passion as the city administrator for the City of Santa Barbara. “You can feel the immediacy of the things we do. It feels like you have more impact.”
Extremely easygoing, Paul has a perennially positive outlook. I’ve known him for about 15 years, and I don’t recall ever seeing him without a smile. He jokes a lot — when planning our lunch for this interview, for instance, this very public official quipped that he likes to “lay under the radar.”
He was born in Whittier and attended UC Irvine because “we’d always vacationed in Newport Beach every August.” He chose social economics as his major, for he’d been intrigued by “how economics can influence public policy and how cities grow.” He graduated first in his class. “I started hitting my stride, but I was trying to find my niche,” he says.
He decided to get a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Texas at Austin, and then accepted a Senate fellowship in Sacramento with Gary K. Hart. “I loved working in the Capitol Building, working for interesting people,” he fondly recalls. He was there during Proposition 140, which established term limits and reduced statehouse employees. That meant the end of his job.
He moved to Santa Monica for about six years, working as assistant to the city’s director of planning and community development as well as a senior planner and a transportation planner.
When asked about his move to Santa Barbara, he says, “I like to joke that I sacrificed for my marriage. I was comfortable in Los Angeles.” Both of his now-ex-wife’s sisters lived here.
He took over for Dave Davis as Santa Barbara’s director of planning and community development. “Dave was a great mentor and a friend,” Paul tells me. “He was a great person to introduce you to all things Santa Barbara 20 years ago.”
In 2010, Paul was appointed assistant city administrator, and he became top administrator in 2015. He lives downtown and loves it.
When asked about the changes he’s seen in Santa Barbara, Paul replies, “Everybody loves Santa Barbara the way they looked at it the day they moved here. We still have the same problems: housing, water, and transportation.”
Paul Casey answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your current state of mind?
Is it November 8 yet? It’s a strange feeling to have your bosses elected through a municipal election.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Honesty and intellect. I meet and work with a lot of people — if you treat me fair and straight up and tell me what you really want, I can work with anyone. I’m also a sucker for smart people. I like to learn, and part of that is being around smart people and absorbing as much information from them as I can.
What is your greatest fear?
Being talked into going skydiving again. My daughter Natalie duped me into taking her for her 18th birthday. I was doing fine until we started going up in the small plane. Then you see your daughter get thrown out the door at 13,000 feet strapped to a complete stranger and, before you can wonder what in the world you’ve done, you’re tossed out next with a few rolls thrown in for fun by your guide. By the time I touch down, I’m white as a ghost. Never again. Sorry, Claire and Katie; you’re on your own.
What do you like most about your job?
The scope and breadth of services that we get to provide to the community. I get to work with and support a lot of dedicated, hardworking, caring professionals, from elected officials to public safety, public works, a commercial airport, a working harbor, recreational programs, community planning, libraries — it goes on and on. And I get to do that in Santa Barbara, with an engaged community that cares. At the end of the day I get to go run along the beach path and watch the sunset on the mountains while looking at the ocean. Not a bad gig.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Swimming in the ocean in 70-degree water with fun waves — doesn’t happen nearly enough. The ocean air; the sound of the waves; the sensation of going over, under, or riding a wave. The anticipation of what’s coming next. Pure enjoyment.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Spending $50 for an NBC Sports Gold Pass so I can watch my not-good-enough-for-cable West Ham United futbol team play on Saturdays. I enjoy cheering for the underdog and chose to root for them a number of years back after traveling with a couple of friends to London to watch some matches. (Great trip!) I refused to pick one of the obvious big clubs and settled on West Ham. The kicker was their team song, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” and one of the many self-deprecating chants, “Let’s Pretend We Scored a Goal,” which is used when things aren’t going so well. One day they’ll be good, right?
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Arrogance. Show a little humility occasionally. Life is complicated — no one person has all the answers.
What do you most value in friends?
Loyalty. Kindness. Support. I’m a sensitive soul, so at the end of the day I appreciate friends who understand the complexity of my job, support me, don’t file a complaint against the city every time I see them, make me laugh, and take my mind off work.
What is your most marked characteristic?
An even-keel, easygoing attitude. A positive outlook on work and life. I test high on harmony, so I like to work with people and find common ground. I tend to smile a lot. Life is short — enjoy it.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Katie, go to bed!” My youngest daughter is reaching the age where she likes to stay up later and later, so it can be an entertaining battle. The hard part is she does well in school and is up early and ready to go in the morning, so common arguments don’t work so well. In reality, I’m tired and want to go to bed!
Which talent would you most like to have?
A young, athletic runner’s gait. Sometimes I plod around the outer lane at the Westmont track and see young, world-class athletes training — they run with such grace and apparent effortlessness. And fast. That looks like fun.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Better eyes. I’ve been needing reading glasses for a little while now, and I just keep putting them off for as long as I can. After getting Lasik done almost 20 years ago, I’ve enjoyed being glasses free.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Cliché but true: my three daughters. Nothing brings me more joy and pride. They are each unique and special and make me so happy.
Where would you most like to live?
Santa Barbara, of course! True, and politically correct. My daughter often asks me where I would live if not Santa Barbara — it’s a hard question for me to answer. There are lots of places I’d love to visit or live for a while, but permanently? It’s hard to beat Santa Barbara.
What is your most treasured possession?
An autographed R.E.M. Chronic Town EP. My friends and I drove down to some random Huntington Beach record store in 1983 where they were doing a record signing. Best band ever!
What makes you laugh the most?
A quick wit and timely joke. A funny, well-told story. I have a friend who’s always making a quip — he only gets it right about 30 percent of the time, but I appreciate the effort.
What is your motto?
Never been much of a motto guy. Life is nuanced, complicated, ever changing. I tend to overthink things, so mottoes don’t fit well with that. How about Eric Idle’s “Always look on the bright side of life”?
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Barbara Jordan. I had a chance to have a class on ethics with her in graduate school. Such poise, intellect, presence, articulation, and integrity — with a soft side and sense of humor occasionally peeking through. Her historical and eloquent contribution in our nation’s history during a constitutional crisis was principled, researched, intelligent, and admirable. A class act who I was privileged to know and learn from. Not sure I rate to be identified with her, but she’s a role model to attempt to emulate.
On what occasion do you lie?
Very rarely. I’m not smart enough to keep up with it. Okay, maybe when one of my elected bosses asks me if I voted for them. Or maybe when I’m asked to go out socializing after work or on the weekend. I’m an introvert in an extroverted job — and I love the work. But at the end of the day I’m tired socially and may find some reason to politely bow out on an invitation.