Palo Alto City Manager Ed Shikada announced Thursday that he has filled two critical leadership positions at City Hall, tapping interim Fire Chief Geoffrey "Geo" Blackshire for the permanent fire chief's job and selecting Philip Kamhi to serve as the chief transportation official.
Neither of the two newly appointed department leaders will need much of an orientation. Blackshire, a former middle school teacher, has been in the department since 1997 and has gradually worked his way up the ranks to become deputy chief of operations and support services. Kamhi had previously served as Palo Alto's transportation planning manager, a senior position in the Department of Planning and Community Environment that oversees residential parking programs and transportation-demand-management efforts.
Blackshire's appointment was widely expected. He has been leading the Fire Department since his predecessor, Eric Nickel, departed in January to accept the fire chief position in Santa Barbara. As the department's leading logistics specialist, Blackshire has managed the department's strategic plan, overseen the reconstruction of the Embarcadero Road fire station and developed multiple emergency-response deployment models, according to the city's announcement.
Once his appointment is confirmed by the City Council on Aug. 5, he will become the city's first African American fire chief. He will oversee a department of 104 personnel and a $32 million budget, according to a city news release.
In the announcement, Shikada lauded Blackshire for demonstrating a "particular commitment to workforce safety and wellness, diversity and inclusion, service and responsibility." He will receive a salary of $258,000, according to the city.
"The Palo Alto Fire Department is a world-class fire department verified by national accreditation and confirmed by the community's acknowledgment of the excellent customer service provided by the firefighters," Blackshire said in the statement. "My goal is to continue this tradition by being a collaborative partner with City leadership and the community."
Kamhi's return to City Hall follows a lengthy recruitment process that began shortly after Palo Alto's last chief transportation official, Joshuah Mello, resigned in August 2018. Even though Kamhi has been away from City Hall for only 15 months, he will be returning to a very different environment, with a new city manager in place and a larger and more robust transportation operation.
Over the past year, the city has established a new Office of Transportation with a staff of 13.5 positions (before, the transportation division was nestled within the planning department). The city plans to add two more positions to the office this year, a transportation engineer and a parking manager who will help administer the city's patchwork of residential parking programs. As the head of the new office, Kamhi will help lead the City Council's pending effort to simplify and reform, a task for which he will likely benefit from his experiences in his first stint at City Hall.
He will also be charged with steering the long-planned expansion of Palo Alto's shuttle program; the implementation of the city's bicycle and pedestrian master plan; and the council's plan to redesign the city's four rail crossings.
Kamhi left the city in spring 2018 to take a job at the Bay Area Rapid Transit, where he is currently managing fleet decommissioning, according to the city. Prior to coming to his initial stint in Palo Alto, Kamhi had managed transportation programs for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Riverside Transit Agency. He has also served in Solano County and the city of Fairfield. He is set to begin in his new position on Aug. 19, according to the news release, and will receive a salary of $190,000.
Kamhi said in a statement that he is "honored to take on this leadership role and to return to Palo Alto with an excellent team of staff that is dedicated to improving transportation."
"The Palo Alto community appreciates the impact transportation decisions have on the quality of their lives and I look forward to working with them and the Palo Alto City Council to achieve solutions to bring positive change," Kamhi said.