Planning director moving north

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Planning Director Craig Ewing submitted his resignation to the city effective Feb. 11, giving up the post he has held since Jan. 4, 1998. He has accepted the position of community development director for the Northern California city of Lafayette.

Ewing, who spent nine years as planning director for the city of La Canada-Flintridge, said he was drawn to Malibu by the opportunity to take on the challenge of a new city’s planning needs. “It’s a beautiful setting in which to work, along the coast, but with that goes the higher responsibility of protection, preservation and regulation,” he said during his first week in Malibu.

When Ewing took on the job, he said he recognized the city faced tough issues concerning the city’s undeveloped land, and that there were opposing views on the need to expand the city’s job base and the broadly shared perspective that Malibu should remain a residential community. “We have pressures for development that are going to test a lot of those views, and we’re going to have to come up with a single voice,” he said. “These are tough issues because they touch on emotional issues for people — the use of their land.”

Ewing said Tuesday, “The issues are still emotional, most are still unresolved, and I don’t think we came up with a single voice. After two years and a month, it is with some regret that we weren’t able to accomplish more.”

During his tenure with the city, Ewing worked on a number of projects and programs, including completion of a draft Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan, which is now before the California Coastal Commission staff for review. A formal submittal will come later this year.

His draft Hillside Management Plan was sent to the City Council, but council members didn’t support it, and instead formed a new committee of architects and engineers to review it.

“The draft zoning ordinance is still a good ways off,” Ewing said. “We made a number of specific changes to the Interim Zoning Ordinance regarding front setbacks, institutional uses, parking standards and modifications of variances.”

Ewing also drafted a “how-to” planning procedures book for the public. “It went to the council in December, but they have not given approval to distribute it,” he said.

The draft wetlands delineation report has been submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers for review. “We’re still waiting to hear from them on that,” Ewing said.

The Civic Center Specific Plan was finished and submitted to the City Council by contract planners Crawford, Multari and Star after months of work with a citizens group, but the council dumped that too.

“I think the report probably was salvageable, but it allowed too much density for what the community would support,” Ewing said. “It was submitted right at the time of the last election, and I think there was a desire by the new council to distance itself from that.”

Ewing said one of the achievements of which he’s most proud is the people he hired to staff the planning department. “I am the longest-serving employee in the department. We had a complete turnover. They are wonderful people, hard working, intelligent, and they have good hearts. They work well together, and while the city and I don’t agree on a lot of the rules, I walk away knowing the department is well staffed with really fine people.”

In his new position with Lafayette, Ewing will be responsible for planning, city engineering and public works. “New responsibilities for me. The city is a residential community, mostly all single-family, and is semirural. They have taken a new interest in their downtown commercial area, and we have a multimillion dollar street-improvement project that includes building a small parking structure, which has to be designed, and a new library. It should be a lot of fun. And I found a place to live in San Francisco, an apartment on Yerba Buena Island with a spectacular view.”

City Manager Harry Peacock has not announced an interim replacement for Ewing; however, recruitment for a permanent planning director is underway.

The city’s previous planning directors had been frustrated in their efforts to accomplish the same goals while working with citizen groups on the thorny issues of formulating the city’s General Plan, Interim Zoning Ordinance and the Civic Center Specific Plan, along with state mandates for housing elements, environmental protection and public access to beaches.

Bob Benard, the city’s first planning director, resigned after a grueling few years to take a position with the city of Long Beach. Joyce Parker resigned in favor of Oxnard (she is now with Agoura Hills) shortly after former City Manager David Carmany’s forced resignation allowed him to take a less-contentious post with the city of Pacifica. Vince Bertoni, who filled the interim post before Ewing arrived, went to the city of Santa Clarita.