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Santa Barbara Waterfront Director John Bridley to Retire

He leaves his mark on the harbor and Stearns Wharf during 30 years with the city

After 37 years of public service, City of Santa Barbara Waterfront Director John Bridley announced Thursday that he will retire from his position on July 1, coinciding with his 30-year anniversary with the city.

John Bridley
John Bridley

Bridley joined the City of Santa Barbara in 1981 as the Housing and Redevelopment director. In that position, he oversaw several key projects of the city’s Redevelopment Agency that would revitalize the downtown and waterfront areas. He oversaw the property acquisition and negotiation of the development agreement for the Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center, acquisition and renovation plans for the railroad depot property and the land development agreement along Cabrillo Boulevard with the Fess Parker family that would later become Chase Palm Park and hotel site.

As waterfront director, Bridley left his mark on the harbor and Stearns Wharf. Since his appointment in 1996, the Waterfront Department obtained and renovated the 1930s Naval Reserve building that would later reopen to the public as the Maritime Museum and a prominent new restaurant location.

After a major fire in 1998 that destroyed nearly one-third of Stearns Wharf, he led a team over a period of two years that focused on reconstruction of this important community landmark. Currently, plans, financing and construction have begun toward replacement of the 30-year old Marina One at the harbor. In addition to major capital projects, he was also responsible for the ongoing maintenance, operation and financial oversight of the historic waterfront facilities.

Bridley recognized the importance of a working harbor and the needs of commercial fishermen and ocean-related businesses. The Waterfront Department manages numerous business leases and more than 1,100 harbor slips for the recreational boating community, visiting vessels and live-aboard residents.

Under his leadership, the use of the harbor and Stearns Wharf by residents and visitors grew. In recent years, cruise ship visits were coordinated to boost the local economy. Attention to the environment was also a priority, with the Santa Barbara Harbor named one of the first public marinas in the state to receive a California Clean Marina certification. With direct oversight of 46 employees, he improved the working conditions for many department employees including the renovation of the Chandlery Building and new waterfront offices.

“If there is a good time to leave, I believe it is now. Overall, the Waterfront Department is operating smoothly, projects and programs are well underway and we are financially sound, even in this uncertain economy. It’s time,” Bridley said. “I will miss all my co-workers and the harbor community. I wish them all calm water and fair winds.”

As a Minnesota native, he began his career with the City of Mankato, Minn., in 1974 and moved on to leadership positions with the City of Robinsdale, Minn., and the League of Minnesota Cities. He received a bachelor’s degree in urban studies from the University of Minnesota.

After a long career of public service, he said he looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Laura, and son Cristian. As an avid swimmer, surfer and water sports enthusiast, he’s planning to shift his focus from managing waterfront operations to enjoying the recreational aspects of Santa Barbara’s waterfront.

“John has done an outstanding job leading the Waterfront Department over the past 15 years,” City Administrator Jim Armstrong said. “He has overseen the completion of several major capital projects and provided a very high level of services to the businesses and visitors at the waterfront. He will be sorely missed.”

Recruitment options are being explored to fill the department head position.

— Nina Johnson is the assistant to the city administrator for the City of Santa Barbara.

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