Credit: Joshua Molina / Noozhawk illustration

The City of Santa Barbara is struggling to hire a new city planner.

Renee Brooke left the city for a job in Oregon last October, leaving Santa Barbara without a permanent top planner.

“We have had two unsuccessful recruitments for that position,” Community Development Department director Eli Isaacson said.

The department plans to hire a recruiter to help the fill the position. The outside assistance is expected to cost the city around $8,000.

“We think it will really help our chances of finding someone,” said Isaacson, who added that the goal is to hire someone in the fall.

The job pays between $157,000 and $188,000 annually.

“It is an extremely critical position to the city,” Isaacson said. “Without that position we are down just a tremendously important resource in community development.

“We are eager, eager, eager to get that position filled as soon as possible.”

The opening is being filled on an interim basis by principal planner Dan Gullett, who earned praise from Isaacson for doing both jobs well.

Isaacson revealed the hiring challenge during a recent community development budget hearing, where the department outlined proposed cuts and revenue increases.

Santa Barbara has a proposed general fund budget for next fiscal year of $201.5 million.

The Community Development Department receives about a 6% general fund subsidy, and City Administrator Rebecca Bjork has told the department to reduce that subsidy by 2% next fiscal year and 3% the following year.

For the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, the department was asked to reduce that subsidy by about $171,000.

Community development plans to increase planning and building and safety fees across the board by 5%. Those increases are expected to generate about $89,990.

Click here for a proposed increase schedule for all of the city’s fees.

The department has also proposed two significant budget cuts. One of them is to eliminate Jason Harris’ economic development manager position at an annual savings of $180,000. Harris, who was hired just three years ago, has already left the city.

In his place, the city plans to hire an ombudsperson to help businesses navigate the permitting process, for about $60,000 annually.

The department also intends to eliminate a planning technician position in zoning to save $80,640. The position was created in the last budget process, but not filled, Isaacson said.

Higher level staff will provide planning desk service, he said.

The city has two big budget hearings this week. On Monday, the City Council will give direction to staff for any final budget adjustments. On Wednesday, the council is scheduled to give final direction to staff before voting to approve the budget next Tuesday, June 13.

“It’s a really sad budget,” Councilman Mike Jordan said of the funding for the community development and other departments.

“I think all of them are sad. Particularly yours and Parks & Rec are going to be really sad.”