Top San Jose administrator retiring after nearly two decades
Kim Walesh, deputy city manager and economic development director for San Jose, gives a presentation Thursday to business and community leaders. Photo by Janice Bitters.

    After working for the city of San Jose for 18 years, Deputy City Manager Kim Walesh announced she will retire March 30.

    Walesh, who previously served as the city’s economic development director, is leaving as San Jose faces significant challenges with its business climate spurred by COVID-19 and a looming transformation of its downtown core with a proposed Google campus and massive redevelopment.

    “I love this city and I’ve loved this work, but it is extraordinarily intense and it takes all of your time and all of your energy and all of your heart,” Walesh told San José Spotlight. “I’ve been at this for quite a while now and I’m just ready to explore the next stage of my life.”

    That next stage will include remodeling her 1910 Naglee Park home with her husband, mentoring first generation college students, spending time with her extended family in the Midwest and making music — she plays the flute and samba percussion.

    When the pandemic is over, she hopes to travel.

    Walesh said the pandemic didn’t hasten her retirement, but it did prompt her to think more about where she was headed.

    “The pandemic sure makes you take pause and reflect on what you’re doing with your life and what you want to do with your life,” Walesh said. Working for the city allowed Walesh to retire at 55 but Walesh, 56, chose to work an extra year. “I stayed through last year, and I’m going to continue to stay up until March 30 to remain part of the team while we’re in the pandemic.”

    Kim Walesh’s Jan. 8 resignation letter to City Manager Dave Sykes.

    Walesh is no stranger to leading San Jose through tough times. She joined the city in 2003 and led San Jose’s economic development team through the dot-com crash, Great Recession and the end of the Redevelopment era.

    She spent a decade helping the city carve out its 40-year urban growth plan and most recently led planning and development efforts for the the Diridon Station Area and Google’s downtown mega-campus.

    “Kim has served our community with passion for 18 years and I feel fortunate to have worked alongside her,” City Manager Dave Sykes said in a letter to Mayor Sam Liccardo, city councilmembers and senior staff. “She has been an amazing leader in our city and a vital part of our City Manager Leadership Team. More to come on the transition plan for backfilling Kim’s position.”

    Over the last 4 years Walesh has played a key role in negotiating a community benefits plan with Google and fleshing out the details of the Diridon Area plan. Given the pandemic and importance of these two projects to the San Jose area, Bob Staedler, a land use expert and principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, said Walesh’s timing seems off.

    “It just seems like an odd time to do this before all that stuff is wrapped up,” Staedler said. San José Spotlight recently reported concerns from a Diridon advisory group that felt the city was not taking their input into consideration.

    He also noted Jim Ortbal, deputy city manager, left another crucial city position when he left the city in December.

    But Staedler said the city has a host of bright employees who will be fit to rise in the city’s ranks.

    Walesh said she was torn about leaving while the Google and Diridon Area plans were in the works. The Diridon station plan is already 20 years in the making. Walesh, who’s been part of the project for the past four years, said it could take at least three decades more for the build out to happen on both projects.

    Aspects of the plan she’s directly involved in, such as development review and community engagement, are on track to be completed by March, Walesh said, making it an appropriate time to transition.

    “I’ve been supporting a team of about 80 people across 10 departments in City Hall and it’s an all star team,” Walesh said. “So they’ll keep doing their work and other leaders will step up and guide it into the next phase.”

    Mayor Sam Liccardo said San Jose has greatly benefited from Walesh’s “energetic and uplifting leadership.”

    ”While championing our city’s economic growth, Kim has promoted the diversity and creativity of San Joseans as our greatest asset, and the very core of our community’s identity,” Liccardo said.  “Like many colleagues, I enjoyed and learned much working with Kim, and look forward to seeing what she’ll take on next.”

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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