Troubled DDS gets new head

As a county department, Development Services has been looked at over the past few years as everything from a rubber-stamp office to a red-tape machine, depending on who you ask. There have been charges of incompetence, accusations that projects were delayed for no good reason and even a grand jury report alleging good-ol'-boy favoritism.

The board is hoping Tim Snellings, currently director of Yuba County’s Community Development Services, can turn things around.

Snellings, who lives in Grass Valley and who has worked for Yuba County for the past two years, said in a phone interview Tuesday he was “energized” by the challenges he will likely face here.

“The county wants to be the best north of Sacramento,” he said. “To me that was very exciting to hear.”

As for the department itself, Snellings is concerned but optimistic.

“There are issues to be addressed. My understanding is that some of them have been addressed. My approach, is, I come into a group like this, I’m going to find out where we are today … to kind of benchmark the organization.

In Yuba County, he said, the hardest part of the job was coping with the explosive growth that has occurred there in the past few years.

“Our biggest challenge was adapting an organization to accommodate new growth at a level that the county’s never seen,” he said. “We’re talking about 40,000 homes in various stages of planning right now and all the jobs that we need to create to go along with that so we don’t become a bedroom community for Sacramento. It’s a very challenging position but it’s also very exciting.”

One of the most complicated developments Snellings oversaw was the Yuba Highlands projects, a 5,100-home subdivision including one million square feet of office and retail space butting up against Beale Air Force Base, 45 miles north of Sacramento. That project was complex and somewhat controversial because of its possible encroachment on Beale, one of Yuba County’s most potent economic engines.

“The developer was not happy with the process so my job was to get it re-energized, kick-start the process, [and get] the product on the street as far as an EIR document,” he said. “The biggest problem we’ve had is that the roads and infrastructure out in that area are also very much lacking. My goal is not to skirt issues or run away from challenging issues, it’s to bring those challenging issues to the forefront so we can have a public debate. We had a very good public process.”

In Butte County, Snellings’ top priority, aside from revamping DDS, will be to refresh the county’s outdated general plan.

“The general plan has come up in every discussion I’ve had and I think that process is going to get kicked into gear here pretty quickly,” he said. “The first step that I’ll be taking is to outline a process and get the board’s approval on that process. It’s the community’s document and the community needs to be engaged at a level that doesn’t bog the process down.”

Snellings’ ideal community development would include a diverse mix of home types with jobs close by and plenty of recreational opportunities.

“Mixing up the housing projects is very smart for a community to do,” he said. “Having a lot of open space.

“What I think is smart is when you take the constraints of a property and turn them into amenities. For example, drainage or wetlands or creeks [can be] turned into part of your open space strategy. That becomes an amenity for a community, not something you want to avoid.”

Besides his land-use experience in both Yuba and Nevada counties, Snellings, who will earn $115,000 a year here, is bringing along a secret weapon—his assistant director from Yuba County, Pete Clarko.

“You’ve got the Yuba County team coming over there,” Snellings joked. “He and I work incredibly well together, so we’re a proven team.”

Butte County CAO Paul McIntosh said it is no accident that the county ended up with both Snellings and Clarko.

“We went after Pete pretty hard knowing that Tim was a potential two-fer on it so it worked out well for us,” he said.

When asked if he was glad to be relieved of his duties as interim director of DDS, McIntosh answered, “Immensely.”