In the latest shake-up in Palo Alto's busy planning department, the city has hired a new assistant planning director and is saying goodbye to two department veterans, one of whom has been leading the city's Comprehensive Plan update.
City Manager James Keene announced Tuesday that Jonathan Lait will be the city's next assistant planning director, the second-highest position in the Department for Planning and Community Environment. The position has been vacant since April, when Aaron Aknin stepped down to take the top planning job in Redwood City. Lait is currently assistant director for community development in Beverly Hills, where he has worked since 2008.
Before that, Lait worked for the City of Santa Monica, where his responsibilities included managing the city's Architectural Review Board and updating strategic land-use documents, according to the city's announcement. He will start his new job in Palo Alto on Sept. 29.
At the same time, Palo Alto is preparing to bid farewell to Steven Turner, who currently holds the position of advance planning manager and whose responsibilities include updating the Comprehensive Plan. During his nearly 16 years in the department, Turner managed some of the city's most complex and controversial projects, including the Stanford University Medical Center expansion, the condominium complex at 800 High St. and the Arbor Real townhouse development on El Camino Real.
Turner is the latest Palo Alto planner to make the jump to Redwood City. Palo Alto's former Planning Director Curtis Williams stepped down in 2013 and took the job of interim planning manager at Redwood City. Aknin followed earlier this year, when he became director of Redwood City's Community Development Department. Turner will now serve as planning manager in Redwood City.
Turner's departure follows the recent retirement of Dennis Backlund, the city's historic preservation planner. Backlund concluded his 14-year tenure in Palo Alto on June 30. The city plans to fill both positions.
In addition to Lait, the city has recently hired two new planners to help the department deal with a growing workload that includes an upgraded Comprehensive Plan, revisions to the "planned community" design process and an aggressive push to solve downtown's parking shortage. In June, the City Council approved a budget that creates two new positions a senior transportation planner and an analyst specializing in developing data for long-range planning.