Newsmakers with JR
Paul Casey Knows He's "Got a Lot of Targets on My Back" -- But Is "Giving 110 Percent to Community"
Not since Hercules hit the Augean stables has one man faced such a catastrophic clean-up job as City Administrator Paul Casey, who's confronting massive wreckage the pandemic has inflicted on Santa Barbara's economy and City Hall's budget.
"This is gonna be brutal," Casey tells Newsmakers. "I don't want to give any false hope that the community not's going to feel this...in service reductions."
In a one-on-one interview, the city's veteran chief executive afforded a substantive and detailed outline of the enormous challenges wrought by the most severe public health crisis since the 1950s polio epidemic and the economic collapse it has triggered, the deepest at least since the Great Recession. He also described the status of City Hall efforts to respond to a looming $30 million budget gap, and talked about ongoing negotiations over "concessions" by public employee unions.
Casey stressed that he has his head down working on the immediate crisis, and said that plans for sweeping, long-range strategies that re-envision the future economy of Santa Barbara will have to wait, even as calls grow louder in the media and in pockets of the community for a far-reaching and visionary approach to the recovery.
"I haven't thought a lot about five years from now, because I am managing in the moment and trying to understand where we're going to be six months from now," he said. "We've got this huge crisis. We've got to focus on the near-term first just to get people back on their feet and then talk about longer term visions."
Amid the crisis, however, Casey also said that he remains focused on streamlining and improving operations of the embattled Community Development Department, a target of developers and elements of the business community unhappy with its slow and exasperating operations on planning, permitting and building issues. He said he has made clear to department Director George Buell the urgency of the problem.
"George Buell has a challenge on his hands and we need to see improvement there," he said. "I think he understands that as well."
Casey said he has heard the vocal criticism from some individuals and factions of the business community who are openly campaigning for him to be canned, in part because of the problems with Community Development, and who blame him for ineffective, pre-pandemic efforts by the city to mount an aggressive economic development effort to revitalize State Street, build more housing and invigorate downtown business.
"I've got a lot of targets on my back and arrows coming my way," Casey acknowledged.
"City managers and city administrators are often in the line of fire in lots of communities and you're seeing it more so now up and down the state," he added. "I hear the criticism. I get it. But I wake up everyday and I give 110 percent to the community.".
Watch our full interview with Paul Casey by clicking below. The podcast version is here.
Image: Paul Casey at City Council meeting (SB Independent).