Politics & Government

California DMV director steps down as agency struggles with Real ID, Motor Voter

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles confirmed Monday that its director, Jean Shiomoto, will retire after three decades with the department and a tumultuous final year.

“Director Shiomoto announced to staff last month her intent to retire at the end of the year after 38 years in state service,” the DMV said in a statement.

Shiomoto, previously served as an auditor at the California Department of Developmental Services and had a wide range of responsibilities at the DMV. She took over as acting director in January 2013. Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her as the department’s full-time director in November 2013.

Brown selected Shiomoto’s replacement on Monday, naming Bill Davidson as acting director. Davidson now works as the DMV’s chief deputy director. He will lead the agency starting Dec. 31.

During Shiomoto’s tenure, the department struggled to implement new laws, including the state’s Motor Voter program — which launched earlier this year to automatically register people to vote when they visit the DMV. The department announced in September that it had improperly registered thousands of Californians through the program.

The DMV has also faced increased challenges with issuing federally-mandated Real ID cards, which are required by Oct. 1, 2020 for people who want to board airplanes and enter other federal facilities without a passport. The agency cited Real ID as a major cause of rising wait times this summer.

Shiomoto began to make improvements, pushing the agency to meet “an ambitious goal” she imposed to reduce wait times.

But Secretary of State Alex Padilla said last week that Shiomoto had “lost my confidence and trust” and called on Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom to “promptly appoint new leadership at the DMV.”

Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson has long said he lacks confidence in Shiomoto and said the news of her retirement was “inevitable, given the history of the failures of the DMV.”

He said the DMV’s next director should have a background in personnel management and technology.

“This gives the incoming governor the opportunity of taking a very deep, hard look at the director position and team of people that the director puts around them,” Patterson said. “The DMV failure has been a leadership failure.”

Shiomoto was unavailable for comment. She will have a retirement dinner in Sacramento on Jan. 23 to celebrate her decades-long service in state government.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 3:10 p.m. to include the name of Shiomoto’s successor, Bill Davidson.

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.