Rob Dayton, left, the transportation planning and parking manager for the City of Santa Barbara, speaks at a 2019 summit on electric scooter projects. Dayton has been on paid leave since May, according to city officials.
Rob Dayton, left, the transportation planning and parking manager for the City of Santa Barbara, speaks at a 2019 summit on electric scooter projects. Dayton has been on paid leave since May, according to city officials. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk file photo)

Where is Rob Dayton?

The longtime transportation guru for the City of Santa Barbara has been on a paid leave since May, with officials declining to do more than confirm his absence.

His absence amid efforts to revitalize State Street and several other transportation initiatives, coupled with City Administrator Paul Casey’s abrupt announced departure, has City Hall in a political and policy tizzy.

Multiple sources told Noozhawk that Dayton, whose formal title is transportation planning and parking manager, filed a complaint with the city’s Human Resources Department, claiming his religious beliefs prevented him from getting promotions at the city.

Sources said disparaging terms were thrown around in conversations in and out of City Hall about his private religious involvement. Dayton requested to go on paid administrative leave, and Casey granted the request, sources told Noozhawk.

Dayton’s complaint has sparked an internal investigation that involves top city officials and members of the City Council, all of whom have been directed not to talk to reporters because of the sensitivity of discussing a personnel matter, and the fear of a lawsuit from Dayton. 

Dayton is involved in an organization called Believer’s Edge, which describes itself as “a movement of men who are being activated into their calling and destiny within the marketplace community. We believe that each of us have a God-given assignment to influence the culture of government, business, arts, media and education within our own community.”

By all accounts, Dayton, who makes about $190,000 annually in pay and benefits from the city, took part in the group on his personal time and did not talk about religion in the workplace.

“I am unable to offer any comment to your question due to an employee’s privacy rights related to their employment,” Assistant City Attorney John Doimas told Noozhawk when asked about the situation.

The drama is the latest temblor to hit City Hall in recent months, from Casey’s decision last week to step down, to the hiring of a new community development director, and a new economic development manager.

Casey’s top assistant city administrator, Pam Antil, left to become city manager in Encinitas a little more than a year ago.

The city is also facing a sexual-harassment lawsuit filed in late May involving the former finance director, among other legal challenges. 

Dayton, who has worked at the city for nearly 30 years, was conspicuously absent on June 22 when the City Council decided to remove unpermitted sidewalk dining but continue to allow outdoor dining and parklets. A year prior, he had trumpeted the decision to close State Street to cars and allow outdoor dining.

For decades, Dayton has been a proud advocate of alternative transportation projects and bicycling projects. Earlier in the month, he was absent in the Transportation Department’s budget presentation. 

Dayton has in recent years sought promotion in the city organization. He applied for the economic development manager position but did not get the job. He also had asked Casey to let him lead the State Street Master Plan and revitalization efforts for the next three years, sources said, but Casey did not create a special position for him. 

Dayton is known for his big smile, cheery personality and glowing disposition when pushing transportation and bicycle projects. 

But now, he’s gone dark. 

Dayton did not return emails, calls or text messages seeking comment for this story. Email responses received by Noozhawk stated that he is unavailable and without access to email. Three other city employees are handling his duties. 

The situation apparently involves multiple conversations and whispers that got back to Dayton, and he took action. 

Sources told Noozhawk that a council member brought concerns about Dayton’s religious beliefs and ministry to City Attorney Ariel Calonne. The concerns were raised in the form of a question and not accusatory, sources said.

Somehow, that private conversation between the council member and Calonne got back to Dayton, from a variety of sources. He reportedly filed a complaint with the Human Resources Department, apparently upset that city officials and employees were talking about his Christian beliefs, since religious speech is protected in the workplace.

Some council members told Noozhawk that they are irate that Dayton’s religious beliefs became an issue, and are worried that the city will have to pay out a legal settlement to Dayton to resolve the situation.

Others believe that Dayton was unhappy with Casey, and is using the situation as a political move to bolster his position with the city and get a settlement. 

Dayton, by all accounts, might not be planning to return to his position.

The Santa Barbara City Council has not met in closed session on the matter.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at