After more than seven years as San Luis Obispo’s city manager, Katie Lichtig is leaving to become the new chief operating officer and assistant city manager for Santa Monica. Her last day will be Sept. 28.
Lichtig, 56, was hired in late 2009 to oversee the city’s administration, having previously served as assistant city manager of Beverly Hills and city manager of Malibu.
Since she started in January 2010, she has helped to guide San Luis Obispo through several key issues, including efforts to increase housing, address rising pension costs; and improve the city’s software systems.
During her tenure, Lichtig also helped the city through the recession, undertake major infrastructure improvements (the Los Osos Valley Road overpass expansion and the new skate park); worked with community partners to fund construction of the 40 Prado Road Homeless Services Center; and led a coalition of local cities to negotiate a settlement with PG&E over the pending closure of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.
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“I have cherished my time serving the San Luis Obispo community,” Lichtig said in a statement. “Together we have solved the problems of today, envisioned a bright future and created lifelong friendships. I am honored to have served this city alongside the dedicated, smart and kind staff.”
In a prepared statement, Mayor Heidi Harmon said she particularly has appreciated Lichtig’s expertise “during a time of transition with a majority new council.”
“She has been a tireless advocate for the City, a strong leader of our staff,” Harmon said. “She also volunteers in many organizations in our community. We are disappointed to see her make this transition but we understand her desire to contribute to Santa Monica and return to the place she started her career in city management.”
Former mayor Jan Marx called Lichtig “a great asset to the city,” ensuring financial sustainability during tough economic times.
“To me the question was the bottom line for the city,” Marx said. “I always told her, her job was to make the city as financially sustainable as possible. She made wise decisions and I wish her well. I look forward to see what the council will do to replace her.”
Lichtig was selected for the Santa Monica role after a competitive national search. She began her municipal service career there as a senior management analyst in 1992.
The city of Santa Monica currently has an annual budget of almost $775 million and 2,300 full-time staffers. In comparison, the city of San Luis Obispo has an annual budget of about $142 million and 391 full-time staff members.
Lichtig earns an annual salary of $230,464 plus benefits in San Luis Obispo. She will earn $275,508 plus benefits in her new role in Santa Monica.
In an interview with The Tribune Monday, Lichtig said hadn’t planned on pursuing a new job, but San Monica’s city manager Rick Cole reached out and encouraged her to apply.
“I think my service and mission will be much the same, to make things happen, to make dreams come true, for the community,” Lichtig said.
By moving back to the Los Angeles area, Lichtig also will be closer to her husband, Mark Loranger, who runs the nonprofit Chrysalis there dedicated to helping the homeless and low-income residents achieve self-sufficiency. Loranger often commuted north on weekends to San Luis Obispo so they could be together.
Lichtig said that she’s especially proud of helping to guide San Luis Obispo through sales tax measures, approved in 2014, that help to provide the city with a wide variety of services, including infrastructure improvements, public safety, open space preservation and flood control. Lichtig said a key challenge ahead will be dealing with projected slowed economic growth and increased pension-related costs.
Lichtig’s local tenure has been marked with some controversy, including public criticisms that her starting salary of $221,000 per year was too high, nearly $30,000 more than her predecessor Ken Hampian. But Marx said Monday her salary was in line with the industry standard, noting her salary increase in Santa Monica.
In 2011, as part of an effort to cut expenses, Lichtig gave up $39,500 of her total compensation in a move that affected 73 city top managers and underrepresented employees. The cuts slashed $807,000 in annual pay and benefits. Like other top managers, she also agreed to forgo salary increases for two years. That year, Lichtig also agreed to permanently eliminate a $450 monthly car allowance included in her contract.
Lightig also was disciplined for her role in a spoof “sexy firefighter video,” produced by Fire Chief Garret Olson, for the annual San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce dinner in January. It drew criticisms that it sexually objectified city firefighters. Lichtig was docked for $2,659 in pay — the equivalent of a three-day suspension — for workplace violations that included conduct unbecoming of a city official. She publicly apologized for the video.
The City Council has not yet met formally to consider the process for replacing Lichtig.
Harmon said that a candidate with knowledge of San Luis Obispo and the “key issues and players” would be desirable, but as of Monday afternoon hadn’t spoken with any other council members about the process to replace Lichtig.