A new director is taking the helm of the San Luis Obispo County Planning and Building Department at a critical time as county leaders prepare for the closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and consider what to do about a lack of affordable housing.
Trevor Keith will have a hand in all those issues as he begins his new job this week overseeing more than 100 employees and a budget of more than $19 million to lead the county’s efforts to implement direction set by the County Board of Supervisors.
The Board on Thursday unanimously approved a contract that gives Keith a salary of $15,118 a month — or $181,417 a year. Interim Planning Director Marvin Rose has filled the position since Jim Bergman left the county in March 2017 to become city manager of Arroyo Grande.
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In what could be the most comprehensive conversation about affordable housing the board has had in a year, Keith’s department on Aug. 21 will bring a package of policies for the board to consider.
Supervisors will talk about where new housing should be built, what to do about farm worker housing, discuss changes to the inclusionary housing ordinance that creates funds for affordable housing by requiring developers to pay fees, and rules about accessory or secondary homes like granny units.
While some new homes are being built in San Luis Obispo to meet the high demand, many can’t afford a $700,000 price tag.
“That’s the conundrum we’re in. I get it,” Keith said.
Keith told The Tribune that it’s important to start looking for different approaches to solve the problem, to provide the board with options, decide what works best here and actually make some progress.
“Broadly, land-use regulation plays a big part of it. I think the issue that I see more and more, really with our county specifically and our cities, is we are constrained by water,” Keith said. “That’s a bigger issue that needs to be addressed on a regional level. Are there things the department can do it help? Yeah.”
As the department head, he said he wants to look at the process of homes getting permitted and consider “how do we make it easier for single homes to be built and (create) a better process for larger tracks and developments?”
Closure of Diablo Canyon
Keith is also one of 11 members of the Diablo Canyon decommissioning panel that reviews information and provides direct input on behalf of the community to PG&E on future plans for the land, facilities and waste in preparation for closure of the nuclear power plant by 2025. The closure will affect the region’s economy and opens a large chunk of land to new uses.
His department could be chosen as the lead agency in permitting future uses of the land and negotiating environmental reviews. That decision is up to PG&E, which hasn’t yet decided what government agency will take the lead.
His main agenda for now, he said, is encouraging public involvement in the process.
“My goal at this point is to make sure county residents know this process is going on, to come have your say, so there isn’t a surprise at the end,” Keith said.
Keith worked in the private sector for nine years then rose through the county ranks over the past 11, most recently as a division manager for the County Administrative office. There he led countywide efforts that involved multiple departments, like the Step It Up Initiative to reduce the number of mentally ill inmates in County Jail and a proposal that has not yet been considered by the board to outsource jail health care.
Before that, he was the deputy director of the Planning and Building Department.
In 2011, he was selected as one of The Tribune’s Top 20 Under 40 and he is a graduate of the Leadership SLO program. Keith holds a bachelor’s degree in ecology and systematic biology and master’s degree in city and regional planning from Cal Poly.