What Lessons Santa Clara’s Next City Manager Needs to Learn
By Robert Haugh
On Monday, the city council met in a special closed session. We’ve confirmed from multiple sources that the council interviewed city manager candidates. (There were two closed session meetings regarding the City Manager position scheduled for today, Wednesday, July 5, both which were cancelled)
That’s good news. The city is moving fast. These types of searches typically take from 6-12 months. But Santa Clara is interviewing candidates just four months after Interim City Manager Rajeev Batra announced his retirement.
Since Batra’s announcement, we’ve been asking some long time residents to tell us what qualities that they’d like in a city manager. Here’s a general summary that might help the next City Manager.
Be Like Don Von Raesfeld
Von Raesfeld was the man who many say set Santa Clara up for the future. He ruled the city from the mid 1960s to late 1980’s when most of the growth and development happened. He bought our city’s power plant which is named after him. Von Raesfeld understood that intense development should happen away from neighborhoods. So he pushed the most intense developments north of 101. Great America was built on his watch.
Best lessons: don’t mess with well established neighborhoods when it comes to development and think about where you put future development.
Be Like Jennifer Sparacino
Sparacino took over from Von Raesfeld in 1987 and ran the show for 24 years. Levi’s Stadium was built on her watch. While this may not be a positive thing to have on your resume these days, in time, we think people will see the stadium as a good addition to the city. Sparacino continued much of Von Raesfeld’s policy, but added residential developments north of 101. She was known for being a good communicator with the all councilmembers and residents.
Best lessons: Treat all council members equally and don’t forget they make the decisions (if they have four votes) and treat residents with respect.
Don’t Be Like Julio Fuentes
Fuentes resigned and left town in 2016 after only three years at the helm. In many ways, he was the anti-Von Raesfeld. Fuentes pushed massive developments everywhere. Many people think he’s the person most responsible for the anti-development backlash that the council is feeling today. One developer, who asked not to named because of current projects in Santa Clara, told us that Fuentes didn’t understand or care about neighborhood opposition. Fuentes was also known for being really tough on his senior staff which did not make him popular. No one came to his defense when he lost the public support of the council.
Best lessons: Respect neighborhoods and respect your staff.
Don’t Be Like Rajeev Batra
Batra is genuinely a nice guy, especially in contrast to Fuentes whom he succeeded. But as we’ve reported many times, he never seemed to grow into the job. Maybe that’s why he never got the “Interim” removed from his title. He served just one year. During that time, Batra seemed lost or weak. We reported how he didn’t understand the City Charter when he argued against separating the Stadium Authority from city council.
He also looked like he was covering up for the 49ers on a few occasions, like when he wrote a response to the Civil Grand Jury about the stadium audit that was so weak the council had Interim City Attorney Brian Doyle rewrite it.
Best lessons: Know the City Charter and don’t cover up for the 49ers.
I agree with your advice. Don and Jennifer were excellent managers. We need someone like them.