City taps Napa veteran as top planner | September 13, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 13, 2013

City taps Napa veteran as top planner

City Manager hires veteran planner Hillary Gitelman from Napa County for city's 'central' position

Palo Alto has chosen a new planning director, tapping the top official at Napa County for one of the city's most complex and prominent positions.

Hillary E. Gitelman, who currently serves as director of planning, building and environmental services for Napa County, was selected by City Manager James Keene to be the city's next planning director, the city announced Tuesday, Sept. 10. If the City Council next Monday approves her hiring, she will begin her new position on Oct. 28. She will earn a salary of $197,500.

Gitelman has spent the past eight years at Napa County, where her responsibilities included current and long-range planning, building permits and code enforcement. She also brings ample experience in parking and traffic management. Between 2001 and 2004, she directed the planning department of the Presidio Trust, a federal agency charged with preserving the Presidio in San Francisco for public use and keeping it financially self-sufficient. According to the city, she was responsible for developing the Presidio Trust Management Plan, the PresidiGo shuttle system and parking-management program.

Gitelman had also worked as the environmental-review officer for the San Francisco Planning Department, where her job was to make sure the city complies with the California Environmental Quality Act. In her decade with the City and County of San Francisco, she conducted environmental reviews for major projects such as the AT&T Park (then known as Pac Bell Park), the Mission Bay Redevelopment project and the Third Street Light Rail project.

She holds a bachelor's degree in history of art from Yale University and a master's degree in historic preservation from Columbia University. She is also affiliated with various historic-preservation organizations, including the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association; the American Planning Association; and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, according to the city's announcement.

Gitelman will be taking over a high-profile position that has been vacant since Curtis Williams retired in June. Currently, the city is struggling to address downtown's parking shortage, reviewing several controversial office developments, updating its Comprehensive Plan and considering revisions to its design guidelines for new buildings.

"I am thrilled to have this opportunity and look forward to working with the staff and citizens of Palo Alto on a wide variety of planning and transportation issues," Gitelman stated in the announcement.

Keene said Gitelman's selection followed a national search, input from community and business stakeholders and two interview panels. In a statement, he called Gitelman "our top candidate" and said the city is "fortunate to have someone with her breadth of experience join the city in this critical leadership position as we address the very complex planning and development issues facing us today and in the future." The role of planning director, he said, is "central to the future of our city."

"This is an especially important point in time for Palo Alto," Keene said. "The director position requires a person with the drive to make necessary changes in our plans and policies and to meet the demands of our community, and do so with diplomacy, and a commitment to inclusiveness and open government. Hillary brings all of these qualities to her new role and will be a tremendous asset to Palo Alto."

— Gennady Sheyner


Posted by Pay, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 10, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Yeah, Palo Alto is hurting financially. They cut all employees salaries and benefits (except for management that is). Then hire a planning director at almost $200,000 plus benefits per year.

Am I the only one seeing a problem here?!?!?!?!?!!?!? Screw fire, police, and other employees who are easily replaced and hire MORE managers who make more than double what the worker bees make.

Posted by Robert, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 10, 2013 at 5:24 pm

$96 an hour plus benefits to sit in an upper tier office in Palo Alto and tell other people what to do.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2013 at 7:00 pm

She is extremely qualified for this position.

And, given the contentious outbursts over every single planning issue in Palo Alto --- major and minor --- she deserves every penny of her salary.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2013 at 7:27 pm

This woman from her background appears to bring to Palo Alto City
government exactly the perspective that is so lacking here. She appears to be an excellent choice and represents a hopeful sign.

Posted by Welcome news, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2013 at 9:21 pm

This is welcome news from Mr. Keene and CIty Hall

How did Council manage to not screw it up.

Everything about her background sounds ideal for the serious issues the City is facing with the onslaught of development. This CIty is being curated by developers, and it is being destroyed.

I wish the new director the best.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2013 at 9:27 pm

From her broad background and experience she appears to be an excellent choice. Give Manager Keene credit here for bringing in a fresh perspective. Now Mr. Keene get out of her way, and City Council/ARB/P&TC listen to her and don't let her believe that
she is simply there to rubber-stamp what you already have in mind.

Posted by Scott Dusenberg, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2013 at 5:36 am

Let me get this straight, we are routinely talking about cutting the budget and cutting staff, then we add management specialists, the EOC staff and interns, and now this lady for a combined total of over $1,000,000 in salaries? Wowzers...

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 11, 2013 at 5:44 am

Uh oh. Another reminder to our high school students of why it is imperative to attend Yale or Columbia or equivalent.

Posted by AR, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 11, 2013 at 10:15 am

This is not a $197k ADD to the City's budget; Curtis Williams was not working for free and his position had to be replaced. This woman's credentials are impressive and it may well be that she will value and endeavor to protect that which is dear to Palo Alto.

Posted by Wilkommen, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 11, 2013 at 11:08 am

Good luck to her...she is certainly going to earn her pay with this city!

Posted by Rex Stults, a resident of another community
on Sep 11, 2013 at 11:45 am

Napa County's loss is Palo Alto's gain. I've had the great pleasure of interacting with Hillary Gitelman regularly on wine industry, land use and environmental issues over the past 8 years. She is a true pro. Extremely smart, very dedicated and very open. She is a terrific communicator and the people of Palo Alto will benefit from this hire. Her shoes will be tough to fill here in Napa Valley.

Rex Stults
Napa Valley Vintners

Posted by OY!, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Oh well, it's only $200,000 a year (+ $50,000 in benefits). Just add another position onto Keene's already bloated "shadow organization" of management personel. Who cares that it now costs the city in excess of $20+ million dollars a year in management salaries and benefits alone. Who cares that the city guarantees that these management employees will continue to receive a six figure retirement income thanks to the generous Palo Alto taxpayers. Who cares that Keene has hired yet another one of his close friends onto his senior management staff. Oh well......

Posted by Wilkommen, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 11, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Hey, truly good help does not come cheap! This lady is good at what she does, experienced, scandal-free, and she is going to have a very full plate when she gets here. Besides, $200,000/year does not go very far if she plans to live in Palo Alto.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Sandy, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Why does Palo Alto feel the need to spend our hard earned money on yet another management position. I don't care how qualified she or he are, it isn't right. The City keeps raising our fees for garbage, water, recycling, etc. They raised our fees on street sweeping and cut our service to 1/2. As always the City does not think things through. They always put the cart before the horse and then realized that maybe they shouldn't have done that. Give the money to the police and fire department who work so hard for us.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2013 at 5:39 pm

It's a key job, let's see how she does.

Posted by Planning, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2013 at 5:41 pm

@OY! and Sandy and Dusenberg: Read the article; this isn't a new position. She's replacing someone in a position that is critical to the future of the city, what with all the construction projects going now and on the drawing boards.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Napa = Palo Alto ?

As chalk = cheese

This very bad choice will = a very bad outcome for Palo Alto tax payers

Posted by Planning, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2013 at 8:35 pm

@Sharon: Read the article; she worked for San Francisco and the Presidio Trust in significant positions.

Posted by Welcome news, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2013 at 9:08 am


Napa sounds great, combined with the Presidio Trust work. She understands nature, and what a tree means. I just hope she will keep that in mind at all times because her job will be to handle an onslaught of projects dead set on making Palo Alto into a depot of ugly office buildings.

I hope she's starting ASAP.

Posted by good news, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2013 at 10:44 am

She also has a degree in art history. It will be nice to have
somebody in City Hall who understands and cares about aesthetic
values. This appointment has the look of a sea-change in Palo Alto.
On her first tour of Palo Alto she will be shocked at what she sees.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 12, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Carly Fiorina, the former HP CEO-- also had a degree in art history

Bad decision-terrible outcome

This very bad choice will = a very bad outcome for Palo Alto tax payers

Posted by Juno, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2013 at 10:08 am

If she is given an opportunity speak on Monday, I hope she doesn't say what a great "opportunity" this position is, or I will have to fight the urge to barf, and I will immediately form a negative impression.

I am wondering why she left what seems to me like a "better" position to come to Palo Alto. Wouldn't Napa County match the salary to keep her if she's so great? And housing is so high cost here. (Web says Napa County has 131,000 residents, compared with Palo Alto's 61,200). Of course, there are good explanations, such as a spouse/partner that works in Silicon Valley. I'm just wondering.

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