Berkeley is looking for a new top infrastructure official after Public Works Director Liam Garland resigned this week.
Garland’s departure, which Councilmember Terry Taplin described as “sudden and unexpected,” follows a tumultuous several months for the city agency that oversees everything from street paving and traffic safety projects to stormwater systems and waste collection.
City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley issued a brief memo to council members on Thursday announcing Garland’s resignation. With both of the department’s deputy director roles vacant, Williams-Ridley wrote that Deputy City Manager LaTanya Bellow, who previously led Berkeley’s Human Resources Department, will oversee Public Works until officials can find an interim leader to replace Garland.
Williams-Ridley did not say why Garland resigned or comment on his over three years leading the department. City spokesman Matthai Chakko said Garland resigned Wednesday.
Attempts to reach Garland were not successful.
Taplin praised Garland’s work and advocacy for initiatives such as a program that pledged a greater share of the city’s street paving budget to an “equity zone” covering much of West and South Berkeley. Taplin said he was concerned the loss of the Public Works leader could spell more uncertainty for efforts to make Berkeley’s streets safer and address other infrastructure needs.
Garland’s departure comes as Public Works staff develop a five-year street paving plan that will be presented to the City Council later this fall. Berkeley leaders are also laying the groundwork for a ballot measure in 2024 that would ask voters to raise taxes to provide more money for paving.
“It’s just another blow to the department,” Taplin said, “and it’s a really sad day for the city’s baseline operations and the delivery of our services to lose our department head.”
Few offices in City Hall are as closely watched as the Public Works Department. Along with residents’ interest in when their streets will be paved or trash bills will rise, a recent analysis found Garland’s staff received more referrals from the City Council calling for new projects or policies than any other department.
But Public Works has struggled with staff and leadership vacancies and faced public scrutiny on multiple fronts.
Longtime deputy director Farid Javandel, who oversaw the department’s transportation and engineering divisions, left his job earlier this year under circumstances that remain unclear after a lengthy investigation into how his office handled a bike lane project in North Berkeley that drew heated opposition from neighbors and merchants. Chakko said Berkeley hired a new transportation manager earlier this fall.
Meanwhile, investigations by state regulators and an environmental advocacy group found conditions at Berkeley’s aging waste facility on Second Street violated clean water laws. The city announced a settlement with the nonprofit California River Watch in September that committed to several changes at the transfer station and paid the group $63,529 in legal fees.
Williams-Ridley wrote in her memo Thursday that Berkeley has found two new deputy Public Works directors to fill vacant leadership positions, saying those hires would be announced “in the coming weeks.”
“We are committed to fulfilling the department’s responsibilities and priorities, including street paving, traffic safety and stormwater infrastructure improvements,” Chakko wrote in a statement. “Combined with the two new permanent deputy directors, these three positions will add stability in the department’s ongoing work to serve the Berkeley community.”
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