San Jose’s environmental services director leaving for post in Sunnyvale

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John Stufflebean, San Jose’s environmental services director, will leave at the end of the month to take a similar job in Sunnyvale, San Jose officials announced Tuesday.

Stufflebean’s exit from a department whose growth drew questions from city leaders comes nearly six years after he took over the agency that oversees garbage, recycling, water and sewers, a job that included developing a $1.8 billion plan to modernize San Jose’s water-pollution control plant.

“His strong strategic perspective has helped advance the city’s environmental goals of waste diversion and the efficient use of our natural resources so that San Jose continues to be an environmental leader,” City Manager Debra Figone said in a statement. “While this is a loss for San Jose, it is a good opportunity for John.”

Stufflebean, 57, was on vacation and unavailable to comment, according to his staff. His last day will be July 23, and he will begin as Sunnyvale’s utilities director, a newly created position, on July 25.

“We look forward to getting him on board and using his skills to organize and operate our new department of utilities,” Sunnyvale spokesman John Pilger said.

Stufflebean is the latest in a series of top-level departures this year as San Jose’s chronic money woes have shrunk its workforce about 30 percent in a decade. The city last month closed its 10th straight budget shortfall, a $115 million gap, by cutting nearly 550 staffers’ jobs. Ninety-one city workers had to move into lower-paid positions, and 140 were laid off, including 66 police officers. The layoffs came despite 10 percent pay cuts for the entire workforce — from the city manager on down.

Among top San Jose officials to leave for other jobs are Assistant Police Chief Diane Urban, who will become chief in Hayward, and Deputy City Manager Deanna Santana, who will become Oakland’s new city administrator. Human Resources Director Mark Danaj left in January to become Fremont’s assistant city manager.

San Jose has seen a host of high-level retirements this year, including redevelopment Executive Director Harry Mavrogenes and parks and recreation director Albert Balagso.

Stufflebean’s staff of 500 in environmental services was largely spared the bloodletting in other departments such as police and libraries. That’s because the department is funded by garbage, recycling, water and sewer fees rather than taxes on depressed property and sales, which supply the city’s deficit-plagued general operating fund.

In fact, while the city workforce overall shrunk about 16 percent over the past four years, environmental services grew 5 percent. But that growth, coming along with steep rate hikes, drew some scrutiny from the mayor and City Council this year.

Mayor Chuck Reed recently said he was “concerned with the growth” and called for an audit of environmental services staffing, while Councilman Kansen Chu publicly questioned the large number of public-relations staffers in the department. Run-ups in cost projections for the wastewater plant overhaul prompted Councilman Don Rocha to ask whether it was “gold-plated.”

Sewer bills have jumped 73 percent and garbage rates 50 percent in seven years, and more hikes are on the way.

Stufflebean has defended the staffing and rates as necessary to deliver top-quality service.

He came to San Jose in September 2005 after working as director of environmental management in Kansas City, Mo. Before that, he was a county civil engineer and solid waste manager in his native Arizona.
Describing himself in a 2005 interview as a “tree-hugger,” he said he was drawn to San Jose’s commitment to cutting-edge environmental protection.

In Sunnyvale, his job has been carved out from the city’s public works department, and he will run wastewater, refuse disposal and water service operations. As in San Jose, a key part of his job will be overseeing modernization plans for a water pollution control plant. Sunnyvale’s project is expected to cost more than $330 million.

San Jose, with nearly a million residents, is almost seven times the size of Sunnyvale, which has a population of 140,000. But the offer from the county’s second-largest city was competitive.

Sunnyvale will pay Stufflebean a starting salary of $191,154, which Pilger noted was near the top end of the pay range for the position. Stufflebean’s San Jose salary last year was $193,196. He also was among seven top San Jose officials who got a $250,000 low-cost home loan from the city, which must be repaid within six months of leaving city employment.

Sunnyvale, however, offers a more attractive retirement benefit. With the same minimum retirement age of 55, Sunnyvale’s pension equals 2.7 percent of pay for every year worked as opposed to San Jose’s 2.5 percent. And Sunnyvale pays most of the employee’s contribution toward the pension, while San Jose employees pay more than 10 percent of their salaries toward retirement.

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