The Most Important Role in Oakland You Need to Know About

By Sam Felsing

One of the most important positions in Oakland’s government is one step closer to being filled.

Tuesday, Feb. 28 was the last day to apply to become the city's next Director of Planning & Building. The position became open late last year when its former occupant, Rachel Flynn, left it to oversee the redevelopment of the former Concord Naval Base for Lennar Corp, a major housing developer that has projects across town, including a 254-unit tower at 1640 Broadway. 

Whomever the City Government hires will manage the Planning & Building Department, which has a staff of 140 full-time employees spread out across three bureaus: Planning, Building, and Administration. Its total operating budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year is $27 million. The person hired will earn a salary of between $130,193 and $195,289 depending on experience. 

The director will be the public face for much of the City’s zoning, code enforcement and urban planning efforts. She or he will lead the department’s coordination efforts with the City’s Transportation, Fire, Public Works, and Economic and Workforce Development departments. The manager will also appear before the City Council and Planning Commission to discuss Planning & Building’s goals and needs.

In the big picture, the director will guide City staff in creating a “compelling vision for improving existing conditions and guiding future equitable growth and development standards for the City”, according to the description of the position created by the Hawkins Company, an executive search company hired to oversee the director search.

Prior to formally announcing the open position, the City held multiple community events to receive input on the qualities and characteristics residents would like to see in the person who fills the role.  Among the qualities the job description lists: “Outstanding people and management skills”;  “A commitment to stimulate growth while preserving the cultural, historic, and ethnic richness of Oakland”; and a “Commitment to equity and inclusion.”

“A good listener,” is one characteristic Planning Commissioner Clark Manus said he’d like to see in the next director.  Manus believes the new manager should be someone who is “solution oriented” and “outward facing”, and who has a critical understanding of the equity issues Oakland is currently facing.  Most importantly, he wants someone who will “enable projects to be delivered.”

Among the priorities the City wants their new hire to focus on: finalizing the Downtown Specific Plan; developing a citywide universal community benefits agreement for all large developments and specific plan projects; and modernizing code enforcement, among other priorities.  

“We hope the process for picking a new director is fully transparent and open to the public. With Oakland going through radical changes, with new construction popping up everywhere, this position is going to be more important than ever,” said Greg Bonato of the East Bay Residents for Responsible Development, a local advocacy group fighting for equity and sustainability from development in Oakland.

The City expects to begin interviewing candidates in the next 45 to 60 days.  The panels conducting the interviews will be made up of City officials and outside development experts.  For a role of this size, the panel will likely interview between 7-10 candidates. City Administrator Sabrina Landreth will then make the final hiring decision.  

As for how the public can have input, Manus suggests people should voice their thoughts through the Planning Commission or other public forums like the City Council.

Assistant City Administrator Claudia Cappio also said, “Anyone is welcome to write me an email or send me a letter expressing their thoughts about the new Planning and Building Director.”

The Oakland Conduit wants your feedback on what priorities the next Director of Planning & Building should focus on. Let us know on our contact page: