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SLO City manager to leave position for job in Marin County 

Derek Johnson

Derek Johnson.

Derek Johnson will leave this April to serve as the first CEO for the County of Marin

– After 12 years serving the City of San Luis Obispo – the last six and a half as city manager – Derek Johnson will leave this April to serve as the first Chief Executive Officer for the County of Marin.

In his new role, Johnson will lead an organization of over 2,500 employees and a budget approaching $1 billion. His last day with the city will be near the end of April.

“SLO will always be in my heart and the opportunity to return to my hometown in this brand-new role was just a perfect fit for where I am professionally and personally at this stage of life,” said Johnson, who grew up in Marin County. “That does not mean it was an easy decision. I am so proud of what our city team has accomplished and the sense of teamwork that has been created, among our City Council, City staff and the community.”

According to San Luis Obispo Mayor Erica A. Stewart, the city will put a transition plan in place to ensure that progress continues on key city council goals and other city priorities.

“We are thankful for Derek’s leadership at the city. Derek’s guidance and fiscal responsibility leaves behind a city in good financial health with a talented team, who are prepared to carry on the important work of the city,” said Stewart. “We are looking forward to working with staff to develop an interim plan as well as a strategy to fill the city manager position long term.”

Under the council-mayor-manager form of government, the San Luis Obispo City Council appoints two positions: the city attorney and the city manager. The city manager hires all other city staff, manages the city’s budget, oversees day-to-day city operations, and carries out the policy direction of the city council. In his role as city manager, Johnson has led a staff of over 400 employees and a total budget of about $240 million.

One of Johnson’s top priorities when becoming city manager was to work with the city council to set the city on a path to long-term financial sustainability. The resulting comprehensive Fiscal Health Response Plan included improving the efficiency of city operations, renegotiating labor agreements, decreasing the city’s pension debt, and bringing in significant new sources of revenue.

As a result, the city has been able to move forward with major infrastructure improvements, a new cultural arts district of downtown, two new major downtown hotels, new facilities in Mission Plaza, bike and pedestrian safety improvements, increased investments in public safety, new parks and trails, and other community priorities. Johnson also facilitated the purchase of properties for the cost-effective future expansion of a public safety center. Most recently, the city council approved an innovative financing package that has allowed the long-awaited Cultural Arts District parking structure to move to construction on the corner of Palm and Nipomo streets.

Before being named city manager, Johnson was the city’s community development director. In that role, he took the lead on updating San Luis Obispo land use plans to address the city’s housing and economic development needs. That plan has resulted in the approval and construction of thousands of much needed homes in San Luis Obispo to address California’s housing crisis. Fast forward to today, and San Luis Obispo has become one of 37 communities in California to receive a “pro-housing” designation from the state. This comes with a range of incentives including access to grants and other support.

Homelessness has been a key issue during Johnson’s tenure. He worked with the city council and city staff to open the 40 Prado Homeless Services Center, stand up the city’s first mobile crisis unit, secure $30 million in grants for additional supportive housing, and establish the city’s first homelessness response strategic plan.

On the administrative front, Johnson created stand-alone roles to lead diversity, equity and inclusion, environmental sustainability, and communication and engagement efforts in the city.

“The city council provided the roadmap by setting clear, ambitious goals,” said Johnson. “They also allowed me the flexibility to innovate and lead, which has translated into a culture of innovation and getting things done among city staff.”

San Luis Obispo was instrumental in expanding the region’s adoption of community choice energy, a way to provide residents and businesses cleaner energy sources that is locally controlled. Central Coast Community Energy is currently on track to provide 100 percent carbon free electricity by 2030.

Likewise, the San Luis Obispo City Council has committed to facilitating a carbon neutral community by 2035. Redesigning city roads to encourage more sustainable forms of transportation has been a major part of achieving this goal. Recent projects include the Railroad Safety Trail bridge connecting Phillips to Pepper streets, protected bike lanes on Marsh Street and Higuera Street, and the pedestrian hybrid beacon on Broad Street at Woodbridge Street.

Starting in 2020, Johnson led the city’s workforce through the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining all critical city services and standing up programs to support local businesses, like the Buy Local Bonus program and converting street space for safe outdoor dining and shopping areas.

Major fires and flooding further tested the city’s ability to manage through emergencies during Johnson’s time as city manager. Johnson established the city’s first emergency services position, which has served the community well in these incidents.

“Today, San Luis Obispo truly is a city of the future, with solid finances and an organizational culture focused on delivering for our community at the highest levels,” said Stewart. “This puts us in an excellent position to attract new administrative leadership and with that, new ideas and new opportunities to serve our community.”

The city council will meet in closed session to discuss interim appointments and recruitment plans. A date has not yet been set for that meeting. The city will provide more information as it becomes available.


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