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Wednesday, Feb 19 2014 11:53 AM

City public works director chosen for same job in Marin County

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    By Contributed photo

    Raul Rojas

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Having helped build modern Bakersfield -- from Rabobank Arena to the Westside Parkway, the Amtrak station to Mesa Marin Sports Complex -- Public Works Director Raul Rojas, a 19-year employee, has been named Marin County's new director of public works.

During his tenure, Bakersfield has nearly doubled its population, from 197,469 in 1994 to 359,221 in late 2013. It is nearly one-third larger, too, expanding from 107.37 square miles in 1994 to 150 square miles last year.

If Rojas' appointment is approved by the Marin County Board of Supervisors at its Tuesday meeting, he would start his new job March 24.

Rojas would replace Marin County's current public works director, Bob Beaumont, who will retire March 28.

Kate Sears, Marin County Board of Supervisors president, cited Rojas' "progressive management approach" as a factor in the county's choice.

"We are confident that he will collaborate with all our community partners to address the important issues we face such as watershed management, climate change and sea-level rise," Sears said in a statement.

In an email, Marin County Administrator Matthew Hymel described Rojas as "a progressive leader who provides growth opportunities for staff and holds them accountable for results."

Rojas earns nearly $166,000 a year in his current position, plus a car allowance of around $300 every two weeks depending on mileage.

In Marin County, his new annual salary will be $197,059, and he will receive $10,000 to relocate.

Rojas was public works director in Upland when he took the same position in Bakersfield in May 1994.

He temporarily left the city's employ in January 2001 to become a deputy city engineer with the city of Los Angeles -- but returned to his Bakersfield position in July 2001, saying his family wanted to stay here.

In June 2002, Rojas came under fire for spending nearly $6,000 in city funds to upgrade his city car with a supercharger and custom wheels and tires.

City Manager Alan Tandy reassigned Rojas' 2002 Crown Victoria to the police department, and had the wheels and tires returned.

Rojas declined to comment on that incident Wednesday.

"In comparison to all the good he did, that's not worth mentioning, in my opinion," Tandy said, describing Rojas as the type of administrator who "(i)n storms, flooding, all those things, he's out in the water, in the storm."

Rojas agreed.

"That's the fun stuff. I don't get to do that too often, as much as I'd like," he said, describing infrastructure as a continual challenge in a city with decades of continued growth. "The city did a really good job of planning for the future in order to make sure growth could go in an orderly manner."

During Rojas' tenure, public works crews transformed the city, building Rabobank Arena, a downtown Amtrak station and beginning the Thomas Roads Improvement Program, a series of ongoing highway improvements funded with $630 million in federal earmarks.

But Ward 5 Councilman Harold Hanson said he'll always remember the city's sewer expansion, finished in the early 2000s.

"That was a monumental project and that thing went smooth as silk," Hanson said, still marveling at the project's speed. "We started it and next thing we heard, 'Why don't you come out and see what we did?'"

Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell also praised Rojas' performance -- despite criticizing city staff in recent weeks for their answers to questions on widening 24th Street and for a report on creating one-way streets downtown.

"And during those times when I said I was disappointed in those reports, I did not blame Mr. Rojas," Maxwell said. "I have nothing but great respect for Mr. Rojas. I know he'll do a great job for Marin County."

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