Assistant City Manager Christa Johnson was officially hired Monday as the new Del Mar city manager after an eight-year run with Laguna Beach.
Johnson’s first day on the job will be Feb. 12, according to a Del Mar press release. She’ll oversee the beach city, which is home to about 4,300 residents and employs about 60 full-time employees and 70 part-time, seasonal employees.
“It’s been wonderful to serve the community where my family and I will continue to live,” Johnson said in a prepared statement. “I’ve had the opportunity to work on so many different kinds of projects over the years. Some of my favorites have included the acquisition of open space; working closely with members of the business community, environmental organizations, arts groups, nonprofits, and fellow city employees; all of whom continue to inspire me with their dedication to the Laguna Beach community.”
Johnson moved to Laguna Beach after serving as the Windsor assistant town manager in Sonoma County. She filled a vacancy created when John Pietig was promoted to city manager.
“Christa has assisted with every aspect of managing the city on a day-to-day basis for more than eight years and has done a great job,” Pietig said in a prepared statement. “Although I am excited for Christa and her new career opportunity, we will miss her in Laguna Beach.”
Johnson is the fifth senior city staff members to depart within the last six months. Recent retirements include Greg Pfost, director of community development; Paula Faust, deputy director of public works, and Dale Shuck, deputy director of public works. Jordan Villwock, former emergency operations coordinator, left Laguna Beach last month to become fire administrative director for the Ontario Fire Department.
Marc Wiener started as the new director of community development last month. The city’s other four positions remain vacant.
Johnson’s departure raises concerns about a loss of institutional knowledge among the top echelon at Laguna Beach City Hall. Pietig said Wednesday that the city anticipates some level of turnover among a workforce of nearly 280 full-time employees.
“Many employees are reaching retirement age or are seeking promotional opportunities that are not available in Laguna Beach simply because positions and funding are limited,” he said. “When employees get promoted to new positions based on their experience, we feel pride in their accomplishments and ability to grow in their careers.”
However, some residents anticipated Johnson might depart when the Laguna Beach City Council voted last July to offer Assistant City Manager and Director of Public Works Shohreh Dupuis a 10 percent pay raise, adding $25,000 to her annual salary, after disclosing that she was being recruited to be a city manager in other communities.
Laguna Beach resident Michael Morris argued at the time that statistics show that employees willing to listen to other opportunities typically leave within two years anyway.
“I’ve been listening to folks and there is already a bad taste in existing employees’ mouths about this potential one-off retention raise,” Morris said. “I think while you might forestall the departure of Ms. Dupuis through increasing her salary in this way, you might hasten the departure of second-tier managers.”