Live Oak’s Chico connection
From Lando to Goodwin: a tale of two city managers
City Hall in the town of Live Oak, pop. 8,500, is a former Bank of America building. People doing business with the city step up to a counter where tellers’ windows once stood. Council chambers are in the middle of the room. Sometimes, when the City Council is having a daytime study session, folks paying their water bills or taking out building permits can see it going on right there.
That openness is one of the things retired Chico City Manager Tom Lando likes about the place, and about working there for the past 18 months, serving as its interim city manager.
Live Oak is small, informal, and friendly. It was a fun place to work, he said. Now that the City Council has hired a new, permanent manager, however, he’s wrapping things up and will be gone by the end of August.
The new manager, starting Sept. 1, will be current Chico Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jim Goodwin, who Lando says will be “a good fit.”
Most Chicoans know Live Oak as a town about 40 miles south of here, between Gridley and Yuba City, that they pass through on their way to Sacramento or points south. It’s got a single stop light and a smattering of strip retail along the highway but not much else in the way of business. It’s actually larger than Gridley, though, thanks to a recent growth spurt that added 2,500 new residents in just three years. This long-time farm town is quickly becoming a bedroom community for Yuba City, Sacramento and even Chico, Lando said.
The influx has changed its makeup somewhat. Older Live Oak is diverse—it has a large Punjabi population, for example, as well as a mix of Latinos and Anglos—and generally low-income. “New Live Oak is much wealthier,” Lando explained.
Several big regional and even national home-building companies have been active there and have tossed their weight around with the city. With the recent downturn in the housing market, however, the steroidal growth has slowed, giving the city time to take a breath and do some planning.
It’s also left a number of houses on the market at much reduced prices.
Mayor Diane Hodges, who’s lived all her 48 years in Live Oak, said in a phone interview she had a friend who recently bought a new, 2,200-square-foot home for $180,000. Hodges wasn’t envious, however, saying she still liked the size of the mortgage payment on her 20-year-old residence.
Hodges is an ebullient woman who clearly loves being at the center of life in her community. “I have a lot of fun,” she said. Live Oak is going to be featured at the State Fair later this month, she said excitedly, and she’s going to be the grand marshal. “Right now I’m looking for a dress. The theme is ‘Going Hollywood.’ “
Both Lando and Goodwin, who was interviewed for his job by the full City Council, say councilmembers are friendly and cooperative. The word Lando uses is “cordial.”
“Several times I was warned that a council meeting was likely to get nasty, but they were always very gentle,” he said.
Hodges agrees: “As my pastor says, like belly buttons, we all have opinions.” Councilmembers sometimes disagree, but “we’re all there for the betterment of Live Oak.”
The town is finishing up a new general plan—it’s due in January—that she said will make Goodwin’s job easier. Fortunately, thanks to long-time Finance Director Satwant Takhar, the town is on solid, if not exactly affluent, fiscal footing. Lando, too, praised Takhar as an excellent administrator who provides much-needed institutional knowledge.
Lack of retail, and with it sales-tax revenue, is a problem, Lando noted. People do major shopping elsewhere. The town is banking on further growth, once the housing market picks up, to attract more retail, and has created a redevelopment area for its downtown, which today is largely empty.
Goodwin’s experience in retail was “another reason he was attractive,” Hodges said. The general plan is creating room for economic growth and “trying to look ahead,” she added.
One of the biggest issues right now is the town’s outdated wastewater treatment plant. Replacing it will cost $25 million, a lot of money for such a small community.
There are about 20 city employees. Fire and police protection are contracted out, and because of budget cuts there currently is no public works or planning director. But city staffers are highly capable and enthusiastic, Lando said, and councilmembers and members of the community are extremely involved, so city government functions well.
The biggest challenge, he said, will be dealing with growth in a town that’s pegged to have 20,000 residents before long. “They’re going to have some challenges to balance that growth and not get run over by developers.”
Lando is ready to pull back. In addition to consulting, he teaches classes at Chico State University, and he wants to go back to part-time work. He’s become very fond of many people in Live Oak and will miss them, he said, but he really doesn’t want to be a city manager anymore.
Hodges is sad to see him go. “Tom knows his business,” she said, “and he was very good for Live Oak at the time.” When he arrived the council had three new members, and “he was a great teacher and worked well with them.”
In looking for his replacement, she said, the council’s “whole goal was, ‘Are they going to fit in Live Oak?’ This is a tight-knit community.”
She first met Goodwin in March 2007, when the Chico Chamber was hosting Gov. Schwarzenegger and invited her to attend and represent Live Oak. So when he applied for the position, “his name wasn’t unfamiliar to me.”
For Goodwin, the new job will be an opportunity “to stretch myself,” as he put it during a recent interview. He’s new to city administration, but he’s worked in the public sector before—as an aide to two former state senators, Jim Nielsen and Maurice Johannesen—and in the community-development arena.
He’s headed the Chico Chamber for 12 years and believes his management experience there will serve him well in Live Oak. There’s a “commonality” between working with a city council and a board of directors, he said.
Chamber leaders will be doing a planning conference Sept. 19-21, he said, at which time “they will refine what they think they want [in the way of a new CEO] and start the recruitment process in October.” In the meantime, Peggy Sanchez will handle day-to-day operations. “She’s been here 28 years and is very capable,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin’s wife teaches in Chico and his daughter is starting high school, so he’ll be commuting to work.
“Being here [at the Chico Chamber] has been great,” he said. “I learned a tremendous amount and got to associate with very smart people. I have absolutely no regrets and very fond memories.”