City planning director resigns to join consulting firm

Hillary Gitelman
Hillary Gitelman

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto Planning Director Hillary Gitelman is leaving the city after four years for a San Francisco consulting firm, joining the ranks of three other top employees leaving the city government this year.

Gitelman will join the environmental planning, science and design firm Environmental Science Associates in San Francisco after May 11.

“It’s a great firm that I have worked with many times over the course of my career, and am excited to join their team,” Gitelman told the Post in an email. “There are so many great people here in Palo Alto who I will miss, however, including City Manager Jim Keene, the other department heads and the staff of the Planning and Community Development Department.”

Assistant Planning Director Jonathan Lait will take over as interim planning director. Gitelman joined the city in 2013 after serving as Napa County’s director of conservation, development and planning for eight years.

Before that, she worked as the planning director of the Presidio Trust from 1999 to 2004.

“We’ve done a lot of planning work together over the last four-plus years in support of the City Council’s priorities,” Gitelman said. “Notable projects have included finishing the Comprehensive Plan Update, ordinances to preserve ground-floor retail and meter the pace of office growth, upgrading all of the city’s traffic signals, rolling out three new Residential Preferential Parking districts, teeing up the Housing Work Plan for 2018 and 2019 and much more.”

The city also established new rules for backyard in-law units and new housing impact fees for developers under Gitelman’s watch.

The Planning Department oversees application processing, long-range planning, transportation planning, code enforcement and planning-related customer service at the city’s Development Center at 285 Hamilton Ave.

Other departures

Three other top city employees will be retiring in the next eight months.

Chief Financial Officer Lalo Perez and Public Works Director Mike Sartor plan to step down by July 1, Keene said. Keene will be retiring by the end of the year and doesn’t expect the city to swear in a new planning director until 2019.

“It’s a challenging time to be doing recruitment just in general because the competition for people is pretty tight,” Keene told the Post. The same is true of private companies, he said.

Baby Boomers retiring

Keene attributed the city’s high turnover to the demographics of Baby Boomer employees retiring, as well as the high cost of housing and the worsening traffic that makes commuting to Palo Alto difficult. Gitelman’s new position will bring her closer to where she lives, Keene said — she won’t have to live part-time in a small place to be able to work in Palo Alto.

Gitelman’s position was a demanding one, Keene said, because so many hot-button issues ailing the region related to planning and land use fall in her lap. He said that Gitelman’s time with the city “probably feels a whole lot longer than four and a half years.”

The city expects a lot of its employees, Keene said, because of the high demands of the community around municipal issues. That can lead to high turnover, but he said it also gives employees a great credential on their resume.

“To be from Palo Alto makes our employees appealing because other folks know that this is a pretty intense and demanding environment, for good reasons,” Keene said. “It’s a very, very high-quality community and place with high expectations, as it should be, from the community.”

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