Official plans to take a ‘mini-sabbatical’ while he plans his next move
Paul Casey announced Friday that he’s stepping down as the Santa Barbara city administrator, effective Sept. 10.
The decision comes after an era during which Mr. Casey dealt with everything from droughts to a debris flow to a pandemic.
Despite the challenges, Mr. Casey has enjoyed the job, but said he felt now was the time to move on.
“It’s a great job. I love this job,” Mr. Casey told the News-Press Friday. But he added, “It’s a hard job. It’s an all-encompassing job. It’s a stressful job.
“After seven years as the city administrator, it’s time to hand the baton to the next person,” said Mr. Casey, who plans to stay in Santa Barbara and take a “mini-sabbatical” while he figures out his next move.
The Santa Barbara City Council is slated to determine the process to choose the next city administrator and plans to appoint an interim city administrator by Sept. 10.
“Most likely, that (the interim city administrator) will be his deputy city administrator, Rebecca Bjork,” Mayor Cathy Murillo told the News-Press Friday. “Then we would launch a nationwide search.”
Mayor Murillo noted she asked Mr. Casey to reconsider.
But Mr. Casey stood by the decision.
“I did not want him to go,” Mayor Murillo said. “He’s doing a great job. He works hard. He’s so good at managing people.
“We work in a stressful environment, but he’s never ruffled. He treats everyone with respect,” she said.
Mayor Murillo said Mr. Casey’s decision left an impact on the city staff. “It’s been an emotional day at City Hall. Some of the staff on the second floor were teary eyed today. That’s how much Paul means to us.”
In announcing his decision, Mr. Casey said he felt it was an honor and privilege to serve Santa Barbara and that he was proud of accomplishments during his tenure.
In Friday’s announcement, the city listed Mr. Casey’s accomplishments as including:
— Passage of Measure C to address infrastructure problems such as street and road repairs, design of a new police station and rehabilitation of key city facilities such as the Cabrillo Pavilion.
— Managing the city’s water resources during a historic drought, which included restarting the city’s desalination plant.
— Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, which included maintaining critical services, addressing fiscal ramifications, assisting the local economy and community psyche, and creating the State Street Promenade.
Mr. Casey discussed those areas, as well as law enforcement and homelessness issues, during the News-Press interview.
He said he felt everyone on the city staff did the best they could, with the information they had at the moment, in responding to the pandemic.
“The State Street Promenade was tremendously successful,” Mr. Casey said. “I think this was a shot in the arm for the business community.”
Mayor Murillo praised Mr. Casey for his work during COVID-19. “His most recent notable accomplishment is getting the city through the pandemic crisis. All of the meetings went online. We had to make everything accessible to the public. Paul and the technical staff worked really hard on that.
“Separate from that, the economy took a hit from the pandemic, which affected our business and affected the revenue coming into the city,” Mayor Murillo said. “Luckily, under Paul’s leadership, we had saved money in our reserve account. We were able to use that money to make up for the revenue not coming in.
“Paul helped to get us through that crisis, helped to get us through many crises, the drought, the wildfires, the (Montecito) debris flow,” she said. “Some people don’t realize Coast Village Road is in the city’s jurisdiction,” Mayor Murillo continued. “The Montecito Water District and the Montecito Sanitary District had very few staff. When the debris flow hit, we sent our city workers to help them with their infrastructure problems.”
Mr. Casey said he feels Santa Barbara is doing well in its economic recovery after the state’s reopening. “You can see the hotels and visitors side of the economy is coming back extremely strong. … But I don’t want to sugar coat how hard it was.
“Retail is still a struggle,” he said. “There has been a decade-long pressure on retail from online sales, a whole upheaval of the industry nationwide.”
Mr. Casey said homelessness remains a big challenge, not just in Santa Barbara but throughout the state.
He said the City Council is putting “a real effort” into helping fire-prone areas by moving homeless individuals from encampments into the Rose Garden Inn on upper State Street.
“By no means do I think it’s the ultimate solution to the homeless crisis,” Mr. Casey said. He explained the problem will require help from the state and federal governments.
On law enforcement, Mr. Casey praised Interim Police Chief Bernard Melekian for “doing an outstanding job.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of our police,” he said.
Mr. Casey said he felt the Santa Barbara Police Department is well-funded but faces the challenge of recruiting new officers. “Not as many people want to be police officers today as they did 10 years ago.”
He also praised the Public Works Department and noted Measure C has made a difference. “The streets and roads are in better shape today than they were five years ago.”
On water issues, he said restarting the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant proved to be a crucial decision in light of “what’s going to be a severe drought.” He noted the importance of a diversity of water sources, which includes Lake Cachuma, groundwater and the Gibraltar Reservoir on the Santa Ynez River.
Mr. Casey was working as the assistant to the Santa Monica planning director when he moved to Santa Barbara in 1997.
“It was a family decision to move to a slightly smaller place. I had sisters who were already up there,” Mr. Casey said.
When Mr. Casey arrived in Santa Barbara, he started his 24-year career with the city government. His first job was assistant to Community Development Director Dave Davis.
The father of three daughters (ages 17, 24 and 26), Mr. Casey told the News-Press his advice for his successor.
“Take care of this jewel of the community and keep it moving forward. We have tremendous men and women of Santa Barbara who care about the services they provide.”