Redwood City Council approves salary increases for city manager, city attorney

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Key figure in Redwood City’s building boom leaving city staff

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate

The Redwood City Renaissance, or ruination, depending on your point of view, had many authors, but one of the key figures in the ultimate outcome of the city’s building boom announced this week he is leaving the city staff next month.

Aaron Aknin, assistant city manager/community development director, said he plans to form his own strategic consulting firm.

Aknin, 41, has been with the city for five years and has spent nearly 20 years working on the Peninsula in various planning positions, including stints at San Bruno, Palo Alto, Redwood City, Belmont and San Carlos, which, as we know, comprise the unofficial royal flush of cities.

Aknin told Political Climate his firm will focus on providing strategic consulting services and staffing to Bay Area cities, many of which are facing the kind of pressure to grow with which he dealt at Redwood City.

Aknin was at the center of the implementation of Redwood City’s Downtown Precise Plan, which resulted in dramatic growth in commercial and residential development, remaking the once-moribund city into a dynamic center of business and recreation.

The downtown plan projected growth over a 15- to 20-year period, but pent up economic forces accelerated the plan and much of it was accomplished in the five years Aknin was a key planning figure.

Indeed, during the same time, there was considerable turnover in the city’s Planning Department, leaving Aknin as, in the words of one real estate developer, “a very steady hand during a time when the city had unprecedented growth.”

Aknin said the city ended up with a positive outcome as a result of the precise plan and, significantly, the public input that led to modifications of the plan as it was implemented. He described the citywide debates over growth as essential to influencing the final outcome.

“The pushbacks resulted in reductions” of some elements of the plan, but the process allowed the plan to go forward and fulfill its ultimate goal of a transformed downtown, now characterized by high-rise residential units within walking distance to the city center and to regional transit and commercial development. The growth has revitalized the downtown as an employment center.

The lessons learned from the experience, Aknin said, is “not to be afraid to listen and to make changes to the plan where it can be improved without losing the overall vision of the plan.”

He said he is fully aware that the changes were unacceptable to a segment of the city’s population. “I get people’s perspective on the role of change.” The net result is a “lot different that we’ve seen in the suburbs. But I do think we’ve done the right thing.”

The kinds of changes seen in Redwood City can be expected in cities throughout the Peninsula, Aknin said.

“You have to allow a certain amount of growth,” although other cities are unlikely to see the breadth of growth that occurred in Redwood City, which had a downtown with more space, larger parcels and a reduced amount of impact on residential neighborhoods.

One unexpected development, Aknin predicted, will be the development of a citywide transportation system that provides more transit options for residents and workers. That’s not to say the city is going to move heavily into business as a transit operator, but that the planning set in motion by the downtown plan will lead to a citywide transportation strategy that will seek to enhance mobility and reduce traffic.

Aknin had been mentioned as a possible candidate for one of several city manager vacancies in San Mateo County. Instead, he has opted to go into business for himself. His last day at the city is Feb. 13, he said.

Contact Mark Simon at mark.simon24@yahoo.com.

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

7 Comments

  1. Wow. What a loss!

    Redwood City will be very lucky to find and hire someone as good as Aknin … let’s hope we can do it.

  2. This is a huge loss for our community. Aaron was the driving force behind many of the positive changes we have seen the last few years when it comes to Community Development. He also did a remarkable job in ensuring the community felt their voices were being heard. While it was just a matter of time before he moved on, it doesn’t make it any easier to accept. Thank you Aaron Aknin for your service to our City and our community. We were fortunate to have you!

  3. As with the most members of the City council, I bet there wasn’t a developer or development he didn’t like or a developer that was’t enthusiastic about getting the projects accepted.
    We are so lucky to have more than a few housing units that look like prisons. The only thing missiing armed guards on the roofs.
    If developers were required to provide “affordable units in the plans there were too few and affordable was not affordable for those residents who make $15.00 or less. No thought was given to housing for a low income workforce and as a result we have 0 unemployment. Almost every business in town looking to hire, and loss of students for a school district that depends on the Average Daily Attendance for funding. With all the development was there planning for needed services fire, police Etc? Was there a requirement for providing land for additional public parks? They might have been required to provide funding for parks but all the new buildings don’t provide land.
    Developers were probably given incentives while residents are also facing increased utility charges. Was there ever a thought to have developers pay for some of these needed services? Two employees were given big salary increases for doing the job they were paid to do as salaried employees. Kudos

  4. What a loss for the city. Aaron was a brilliant planner that always listened to everyone involved. Not only was his vision correct his effectiveness was unparalleled. I had the pleasure of working with Aaron and witnessed the turnover. The turnover was due to mostly our employees taking better paying jobs and getting promotions. Aaron will be missed!

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