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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Rob Dayton: SB's "Futuristic Activator" Talks Bike Conflicts, State St.'s Future & Ugly Neon Paint

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

"You never want to let a serious crisis go to waste." Rahm Emanuel, former President Obama's first chief of staff, famously said during the darkest days of the global economic meltdown in 2009.

He meant that, for political leaders, the harrowing challenge of managing severe financial and social disruptions also presents propitious opportunities to enact favored policies that would be difficult to implement in normal times.

Emanuel's Law comes to mind in witnessing the performance of Rob Dayton, transportation and parking czar for the city of Santa Barbara, during the pandemic crisis and and its economic turmoil. A tenacious advocate for bicycling as a crucial element of a multi-modal, alternative transit strategy, the savvy and high-energy Dayton over the past year has orchestrated an ambitious -- and controversial -- push on behalf of his prized pet project.

From the city's new electric bike share program to the sweeping design and engineering changes wrought by the new Sola Street bicycle byway connecting Westside and Eastside, along with the broad expanses of cyclist space carved out of the State Street promenade, Dayton's policy choices and sensibilities -- as well as his inside political skills -- are much in evidence, and much in the news.

"We're trapped between two worlds," Dayton said in an interview with Newsmakers on Wednesday, as he described how the pandemic has created an extraordinary set of urgent and immediate demands for action by city officials that contrast, and often conflict, with Santa Barbara's characteristically deliberate and slow-moving approach to planning and traffic issues.

Passionate, purposeful and persuasive, the 55-year old Dayton now is working his 30th year for the city, having emerged as a key player at City Hall on nearly every major planning and land use project.

Like other high-ranking city bureaucrats, Dayton has undergone the Gallup-Clifton Strength Assessment, a widely-used management tool that evaluates the skills of administrators and executives. His bottom-line assessment, Rob told us: "Futuristic activator."

Elsewhere in our conversation, Dayton also:

  • Expressed respect and admiration for the work of the Historical Landmarks Commission in protecting and preserving Santa Barbara's landmark aesthetic values, but said the HLC's traditional, long-term perspective could not apply to some of the fast-moving, emergency measures implemented to aid downtown businesses by closing a large portion of State Street to cars and traffic.

  • Defended as a good deal for the city the agreement with the BCycle company to provide an electric bike share pilot project, adding that other local bike rental companies were informed and had the chance to compete for the contract.

  • Disclosed that the description of the controversial Sola Street bike path as the "Westside Community Paseos" project was coined by a paid marketing consultant to Public Works in an effort to make the venture more palatable - but admitted the name flopped.

  • Confirmed that he has applied for the position of Community Development Director, a critical management job in carrying out plans for the future of downtown, but believes it will go to an out-of-town applicant.

  • Acknowledged that his personal relationship with high-powered developer Ed St. George, who has led a campaign to try to oust City Administrator Paul Casey, makes for a "very awkward" situation, given that the Administrator is his boss, but offered glowing praise of Casey's professional performance under the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic.


Watch our interview with Rob Dayton via YouTube below or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here.


New Yorker Cartoon by Colin Tom.

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