SLO County planning director to leave job in April

Jason Giffen, San Luis Obispo County’s planning director for the past two and a half years, is leaving to take a job directing environmental and land use management with the San Diego Port District. His last day working for San Luis Obispo County will be April 5.

In announcing his departure, the 38-year-old Giffen praised his planning staff, whom he called “versatile, flexible, innovative, and hard-working,” and noted several milestones since he started work here in September 2010.

  • Beginning construction of two solar farms on the Carrizo Plain;
  • Working with the Board of Supervisors to include an “economic element” in the county’s general plan that will “forward the goals of a county-wide economic strategy”; and
  • Reorganizing the department to make it more efficient and customer friendly.
  • Giffen said the change in the board’s attitude toward planning did not factor into his decision. Since January, when Debbie Arnold replaced Jim Patterson as 5th District Supervisor, the board has had a 3-2 majority that believes planners have overstepped, and regulation has gone too far.

    Arnold, who has emerged as the de facto leader of that trio, ran on a platform of reeling in what she and her supporters have called overreaching by the county’s planners, and by the previous board majority, which included Patterson as well as Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill, who still sit on the board.

    But Giffen, in an email exchange with The Tribune, said his decision to depart was personal and “not based on who serves on the county Board of Supervisors.”

    “During my time with the county,” Giffen went on, “I have had the pleasure to serve seven different board members, and all of them have been very supportive.”

    “The board has continually challenged county staff and me to address complex and often controversial land use issues in a thoughtful, intelligent, rigorous, and professional way, and those expectations remain in place today,” he wrote.

    Supervisors Frank Mecham and Paul Teixeria said they will be sorry to see Giffen go. Arnold did not reply to a request for comment.

    Mecham said Giffen had “made some good and positive changes in his department. He took on the restructuring of his department which eliminated the 'silo effect' within his organization. He's done a great job in the short time he was here and his talents will be missed.”

    Teixeira, the board chairman, called Giffen an “exceptional professional.”

    Giffen came on board during a period when the Board of Supervisors was making a transition from veteran leaders to young and, they felt, dynamic leaders in key positions. Over a period of three years they hired a new county administrator, county counsel and human relations director, in addition to Giffen.

    The department has 87.75 full-time equivalent workers, down one and a half positions from when Giffen arrived. That number has been shrinking since the 2006-07 fiscal year, when it stood at 118 full-time equivalent workers — a reduction of 30 workers in six years.