Vote on planning director ahead

County supervisors will formally vote Tuesday on a contract for their new director of Planning and Building, filling a job that has been vacant for more than a year.

Jason Giffen, now land-use chief for San Diego County, will receive $201,631 in salary and benefits. That breaks down to a salary of $131,789 and benefits of $69,842.

Giffen made the final cut June 16, after San Luis Obispo County officials had sifted 81 applicants. Since then, county officials have been negotiating a contract with their new top planner.

While Giffen was not available for an interview, a former colleague who now runs the Santa Barbara County Planning Department praised him.

Glenn Russell, director of planning and development for Santa Barbara County, called Giffen “a very, very strongly ethical person” with “a very strong emphasis on customer service.”

Russell said Giffen was his right-hand man in San Diego County for 10 years, and the two worked to reduce the costs and time it takes to acquire permits.

He said Giffen was committed to “making things more understandable” and creating a milieu for customers in which applicants think of planners as helpful, “as opposed to being aloof and detached.”

Russell said Giffen will be at home in a county where land use can be extremely political, as it is in San Luis Obispo County.

“In San Diego, controversial land-use projects were normal,” Russell said.

County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, one of those who chose Giffen, said he was “looking for somebody with vision” and found Giffen “extraordinarily intelligent and articulate.”

Giffen has spent 11 years with San Diego County. He holds a master’s degree in international environmental policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

He is expected to take the helm in mid-September.

The Board of Supervisors meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the New County Government Center, 1055 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo. Giffen’s approval is on the board’s so-called consent agenda, which is where supervisors place items they do not intend to discuss.