City shuffles positions to handle growing economy, more development
Brendan Vieg has worked for the city of Chico for over 13 years, so he’s seen the evolution of its staff, from robust, prerecession prosperity to barely enough bodies to get the job done. Now, with a rebounding economy, his department, Planning Services, is experiencing an exponential increase in workload. And, as he moves into the role as deputy director of community development, he’s been tasked with figuring out how to do more with less.
Planning Services is the gatekeeper for developers who want to build in Chico, in effect managing growth within the city. Before a new construction project can break ground, it must first be approved by a planner, who ensures the project complies with local, state and federal regulations; zoning ordinances; the general plan; and design requirements before issuing necessary permits. With fewer people in the office—before the recession, it employed 16 people; now, there are seven—that means longer wait times for developers.
“We’re doing business that hasn’t been done here in over 10 years but we’re doing it with the post-recession amount of people,” said Mark Orme, Chico city manager. Beyond long wait times, the lack of staff has also resulted in below-par work being done within the department, according to an evaluation completed last December.
“With a lack of sufficient oversight and quality control, the quality of work produced in the Planning Division—at every level—has been highly variable. This has been exacerbated by the need to do more with less, and do it more quickly to meet the demands of a growing economy. More often than should be the case, major errors have been made,” the evaluation reads.
But, change is in the air. With the recent departure of Mark Wolfe, director of Community Development, which oversees planning as well as building and housing, Orme saw an opportunity to reorganize. Earlier this month, he presented his plan to the City Council. It included a couple of shifts—Building Official Leo DePaola has been appointed to the top job left vacant by Wolfe, and Vieg to a new position as deputy director of Community Development. The City Council will be asked to confirm Orme’s appointments at its next meeting, on Aug. 1.
The plan also includes adding a principal planner position as well as modifying a current position to become a permit supervisor. Sometime later this year, a new software system will be implemented to better track permits and other planning and building data.
Vieg accepts the department’s new direction, saying that aspiring to prerecession employment levels is unrealistic. The goal of the department now is to continue its development of positive working relationships. He said that while their staff is small, morale remains high and the current employees are doing a good job considering the circumstances.
“This is just where we are,” he said. “This is what we have.”
Like Vieg, DePaola has seen the city through the recession. Orme said he chose DePaola for the job because of how well he’d overseen and handled the downsizing of the Building Division. He hopes that, moving forward, DePaola will continue that tradition of positive energy and working toward efficiency.
“I try to empower the people that are working with me to be able to do their job,” DePaola said. “I’ve enjoyed it, I have a great crew.”
Although staffing is low, DePaola understands this is a challenge that the entire city faces. While he has been successful with running his staff, he admits that there is always room for improvement.
“We’re always trying to get better,” he said. “What I don’t ever want employees to forget is that we are civil servants by nature.”