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Op-Ed submitted by Dr. Peter Pirnejad, Los Altos Hills City Manager and president-elect of Cal-ICMA
As I reflect back on a 26-year career in local government and pen my thoughts on the intricate role of a city manager in the picturesque Town of Los Altos Hills, nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, I am filled with a profound sense of gratitude. Serving as the city manager for this small yet highly involved and influential community has been a privilege, a responsibility I cherish daily. The lessons come from many years in public, private, non-profit and academic institutions collecting gems of wisdom from professionals and academics which I look to for inspiration and motivation. I hope to share some of those gems with you.
Los Altos Hills is not just a Town; it is a dynamic ecosystem where education, innovation and community engagement converge. The residents of this Town are not only highly educated but also well-informed, making their involvement in local affairs both a challenge and a blessing. The positive side of this is evident in the vibrant civic culture that permeates every aspect of our operations. The residents actively participate in shaping the community’s future, offering insights that are not only informed but also visionary. Their contributions make it possible for a Town of our size to, “Punch above our weight.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of working in Los Altos Hills is the deep sense of community pride and responsibility that residents exhibit. Their engagement is not merely limited to attending City Council, Planning Commission or fifteen committees; it extends to active participation in various initiatives, community engagement events, contributing to the Town’s cultural and social fabric. This highly involved community fosters a sense of unity, where the synergy between local government and residents creates a unique and enriching environment.
However, with every set of advantages comes its own set of challenges. Employee attraction and retention have emerged as significant hurdles in our journey to maintain high standards. The “Silver Tsunami,” “Great Resignation,” and the newfound focus on “Life-Work Balance” has led to many skilled professionals choosing to change or pause employment. The demand for qualified individuals often outstrips the supply, making it a constant struggle to build and maintain a dedicated team.
In this new normal, it becomes imperative to emphasize the importance of fostering a work environment that values and nurtures its employees. Offering competitive but sustainable salaries is just the beginning; providing opportunities for professional growth, recognizing achievements and creating a supportive workplace culture are equally vital. A satisfied and motivated workforce is an investment in the future success of the Town, as these individuals play a pivotal role in executing the vision set by the community.
Adding to the complexities, city managers find themselves navigating through a maze of demands imposed by unfunded mandates or natural and biological disasters like fires, floods and COVID. The regulatory landscape is ever evolving, with new mandates and expectations continually being foisted upon us. Balancing the needs of the community with the constraints imposed by external forces requires strategic thinking and adaptability. Even though we set priorities in January and budget against them in May, the only thing we can plan on is change.
In 2024, I am honored to serve as the president-elect of Cal-ICMA, an organization that stands as a champion for city managers across California. My focus as I serve on the board is clear — the preservation and promotion of our industry and the dedicated professionals who have chosen this path of service. Our role extends beyond managing day-to-day operations; it encompasses stewardship of the values that define our communities and the preservation of this experiment called democracy.
As I look ahead, I am optimistic about the future of city management. Together with my esteemed colleagues, I hope to foster an environment where innovation is embraced, challenges are viewed as opportunities and the dedication of city managers is recognized as instrumental in shaping the trajectory of our towns, villages, districts, JPAs, cities, counties and related agencies.
Dr. Peter Pirnejad is currently the City Manager for the Town of Los Altos Hills. Los Altos Hills is a premier Silicon Valley residential community located in Santa Clara County, CA, and recognized for their large estate home, rolling hills, and intricate pathway system. The town has a full range of contract services which include Santa Clara County Sheriff, a local fire district, and two water districts.
Peter is an award-winning local government expert who has hands-on innovation, technology, and community development experience. With over 25 years’ local government experience in public administration, Peter had previously served as the City Manager in Foster City, Assistant City Manager for the City of Napa and as the Development Services Director for the City of Palo Alto. For two years Peter made a shift in his career and served as a Senior Director at Oracle’s Global Public Sector Industry Strategy focused on State and Local Government.
He has received awards complimenting his team’s ability to develop policies that advance sustainability, building safety, and collaboration. His passion for advancing government technology earned him a range of innovation awards as well as a seat on the CivStart.org board committed to promoting innovation in government.
Peter has also served on several public sector membership boards and commissions, including the CalICMA Board, President of the CA League of Cities (LCC) Planning Department, mentoring of next generation City Managers with the International City/Council Management Association (ICMA). Peter also sits on the board of CivStart, a nonprofit focused on helping accelerate innovative GovTech startups that desire to solve local government challenges. He has a BA in Environmental Studies and Geography from the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as a Masters and Doctorate Degree in Policy, Planning and Development from the University of Southern California.
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