Santa Monica Lookout
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Santa Monica Taps LA Deputy Mayor As New City Manager

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

May 28, 2015--Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Rick Cole, a champion of the New Urbanism movement with decades of experience as both a city administrator and elected leader, was named Wednesday as Santa Monica’s new city manager.

At a special meeting held to select the new appointee, City Council members voted unanimously to hire Cole, who will take over from Interim City Manager Elaine Polachek.

Polachek had been interim manager since February 1, assuming the post after longtime City Manager Rod Gould retired in January after five years. This week, Gould announced he’s taken a job with Management Partners as vice president for management.

"Our City Council is unanimously enthusiastic about what we all agree is a perfect fit of City and Manager,” said Mayor Kevin McKeown. “Rick Cole is a respected and inspirational visionary for successful sustainability, resilience, and quality of life.

“We took very seriously our community's contributions to the job description from which we hired Rick,” McKeown said.  “He has proven in city after city his ability to incorporate diverse input, identify shared goals, balance economic development and residential quality of life, and bring communities together."

Cole entered public life in his 20s, serving as a deputy for a Pasadena City Council member before running for office in his late 20s.

Cole, 60, last served publicly as Ventura’s city manager for six years before L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti recruited him to the job of deputy mayor of budgets and innovation responsible for a $5.3 billion dollar budget and five city departments.

Cole came to Ventura in 2004 to help officials there realize plans to revitalize parts of the city by creating walk-able, mixed-used neighborhoods. But the recession a few years later forced him to instead focus on balancing the budget, which required laying off nearly 100 city employees and trimming millions in spending.

Cole also served as city manager of Azusa, where he is credited with helping revitalize that city’s once-blighted downtown, and he served for 12 years on the City Council in Pasadena, his hometown, including a two-year stint as mayor.

In 2006, Governing Magazine, a trade publication for government leaders, named Cole a “Public Official of the Year.”

A former journalist who co-founded Pasadena Weekly magazine, Cole holds degrees from Occidental College and Columbia University.

During one Christmas break as a college student, he spent 10 days traveling by bus across Los Angeles, immersing himself in the region’s diversity and urban environs, he told Governing Magazine in a 2006 article.

“Cole has been paying close attention to how communities look and function ever since,” said the article.

According to the magazine, Cole is known as a “strong believer in compact, even dense, development, but he is equally dedicated to strong civic engagement and effective, accountable government.”

“Those three strands are inextricably intertwined in a healthy and successful city,” Cole told the magazine. “Without civic activism, you don’ have the buy-in of the community and the mobilization of private-sector and third-sector resources.

“And, of course, if you don’t have a government that can issue permits in less than three years or the ability to keep a park safe, then building houses above a park won’t work. You have to put these three things together to have any of them be a success.”

In Pasadena, Cole helped break a years-long deadlock between pro- and anti-growth factions, which resulted in the revitalization of Old Town Pasadena, “one of the most attractive and attention-getting downtowns in the region,” said Governing Magazine.

At a Urban Land Institute panel discussion last year, Cole discussed the critical ingredients needed to improve Los Angeles’ major thoroughfares.

“As the father of three teenagers, I’ve learned that you can cook a meal, you can set the table, but you can’t necessarily get independent stakeholders to sit down and join you,” he said.

One critical component to creating great streets, he said, is private investment, citing Santa Monica as an example.

“Twenty-five years ago, an entrepreneur named John Wilson assembled a crew of hippie and immigrant labor and stripped down all those beautiful old buildings on Main Street in Santa Monica and began finding other crazed entrepreneurs to turn those storefronts into unique businesses -- ones that no conventional developer would ever sign up because they’re not bankable tenants.

“He was followed by the commercial brokers, then other private investors, and then private infill developers who begin to create those anchor mixed-use developments that really signal a great street has arrived,” Cole told The Planning Report, a trade publication aimed at government officials.

Cole emphasized one final “vital ingredient that truly animates a street – people.”

“Why is it so frequently that it’s the artists -- like Banksy or Shepard Fairey or the immigrant muralist painting that crude Virgin de Guadalupe on the muffler shop or the panaderia -- who are often the sign that a great street is coming?”

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