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New planning director boasts broad background


Published: August 30, 2013

WITH AN advanced degree in geology and the experience of overseeing planning in the newly incorporated City of Goleta — among other accomplishments — Rob Mullane started work as the city’s new community planning and building director Monday, filling a job that had been vacant for a decade.

“Carmel has world renown for its charm and good planning,” he told The Pine Cone Tuesday, so when he saw the job was available, he jumped at the chance to run the planning department in a city he had visited a half-dozen times over the years. And the job, which includes overseeing all aspects of planning and building, as well as working with the city council and outside agencies, presented “a good opportunity to come in and provide a leadership role, and work in a rebuilding environment.”

A native of Connecticut, Mullane studied geology at Duke University in North Carolina and then obtained a master’s in the same field of study at the University of Hawaii. That program’s emphasis on coastal-zone management led him into planning, and he ended up spending several more years in the Hawaiian islands — including isolated, outlying islands, as well as the big ones — focusing on resource management, water issues, erosion, beach repair and other aspects of development in coastal regions.

“Some were high islands, like the volcanic islands, and others were atolls with maximum heights of like 10 feet,” he said. “But they were all very concerned about sea-level rise and freshwater depletion, because they have very limited freshwater supplies and burgeoning populations.”

He loved Hawaii, but found traveling to the East Coast from Maui to visit his family more and more difficult, so he settled on California as the midway point and ended up in Santa Barbara in 2000. There, he continued his planning career and said he recalled meeting Jason Stilwell, who was assistant county administrator for Santa Barbara County before becoming city administrator here two years ago.

“I knew of him and our paths may have crossed, but we didn’t work together in any extended capacity,” Mullane said.

He moved to the Santa Ynez Valley, and after the City of Goleta was incorporated, Mullane went to become its first planner in 2003. “It was exciting — a new city starting at ground level,” he said. “I was employee No. 13, and that was my first exposure to city planning.”

In its infancy, Goleta had no planning commission, so Mullane worked closely with the city council to draft the general plan — without the help of outside consultants, which is unusual.

“I had a really diverse range of responsibilities there,” he said. A major undertaking during his first two years included settling a long contentious proposal to develop a coastal area that included a major monarch butterfly habitat, native grasslands, beach, tidal pools and coastline.

After four years in Goleta, Mullane joined Rincon Consultants and spent some time in the private sector, though much of the firm’s work was for government agencies. Another four-and-a-half years passed, and in March 2012, he became community development director for the City of Ojai, a small resort town with an agricultural community southeast of Santa Barbara.

“They hadn’t had a full-time community development director for a long time,” he said. “It was a small staff and a fairly small city with a lot of the same issues” as Carmel, including a heavy reliance on tourism dollars, fairly built-out residential and commercial areas, and emphases on historic and cultural preservation.

“It was a really involved citizenry,” he said.

He was content to remain there until he learned about the Carmel job opening and figured it presented an opportunity too good to pass up. His resume was one of 79 submitted by applicants, and Mullane was among the six finalists interviewed by panels of community members and professionals at Sunset Center in June.

“The interview process at that level is really a two-way street — you’re getting a sense for the community and its needs, as well as they are getting a good sense of you,” he said. “The whole process was really professional and very educational, and it was a good opportunity to learn quite a bit about the community before I was even a finalist.”

The panels selected three top candidates and identified their favorite, and Stilwell interviewed all three, after which Mullane went on to meet the staff in the community planning and building department and all the other city directors. Stilwell announced his hiring at the Aug. 6 city council meeting.

Staying in mid-valley while deciding where to live, Mullane said this week he’s getting acquainted with his new home, city employees and the decision makers on the various boards and commissions.

“I know there are a lot of great ideas out there, and they’re excited to have a director in place,” he said. “So my role is to reflect their desires and provide some of my own insight and ideas, but it takes time to get the lay of the land — my bearings — and a sense for the opportunities for improving things.”