Community development in the City of Santa Maria is moving forward. Last week, Chuen Ng officially took over as director of the Community Development Department, which oversees building, planning and special projects.
“I’m just really excited to be here,” said Ng Wednesday morning. “This a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to serve, and I’m hoping to spend many years here.”
Last week, the Los Angeles native moved into the office formerly occupied by Larry Appel, who led the department for many years before retiring last month.
“It’s been a really good week and a half,” Ng said. “People have been very gracious and very kind. My first schedule for the first week was very full. I met a lot of different people, lot of stakeholders and I’m eager to be here.”
Ng comes from Lancaster in the Antelope Valley, where he served as Planning Section Manager. He also worked as planner in Hanford, bringing more than 12 worth of municipal planning experience to his new job.
“Seeing the potential of Santa Maria, seeing the opportunities that lie ahead, it was just too good to pass up,” said Ng.
Ng jumps into a position that should prove to be very busy. Currently, there are numerous commercial and residential projects in various stages of development.
Perhaps most significantly is the massive Enos Ranchos development, currently in construction along Betteravia Road and Highway 101.
“This is a project that has a regional impact and we hope that it serves customers beyond the city boundaries of Santa Maria and we can bring the sales tax revenues that we need,” said Ng.
As Community Development Director, Ng will help oversee the project, which will include many well-known national businesses, including Costco, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Buffalo Wild Wings, and several other retailers and restaurants.
“They’re on a very tight schedule and so I’ll be working with our building official and our planning manager and our public works crew so make sure that gets off the ground in a timely manner,” said Ng.
At, or near the top, of his priorities will be the implementation of the city’s Downtown Specific Plan, which serves as a master blueprint of how the leaders want to shape the area.
“There’s a lot of potential for downtown,” Ng said. “There’s some in the community that may have given up on it a little bit, but I believe and see the potential. I think there’s a lot of work to do. We’ve already begun in bringing people back into the downtown in terms of our Friday night activities, but we need to get some adequate development in our core. If we preserve our core, we’ll also preserve the neighborhoods surrounding the core.”
As he begins his first good look at the plan, Ng notes dynamics of retail are changing significantly, particularly due to online shopping. Still, he emphasizes a need for a strong, vibrant downtown.
“People still want to leave their house and go somewhere,” Ng said. “People still want to have an experience, and that’s what downtowns are for, for people to go and just have a good time. That potential is absolutely still there for our downtown and I hope that in the near future we can bring the right types of tenants in, so that people come here and we begin to change their perception of the core of our city.”
Ng adds another major goal of his will be to improve economic development in the city.
“We need to bring jobs back to the city and good paying jobs, so that we have a healthy sector of jobs and households that have some money to spend, and that way can keep our revenues at a rate that will allow us to keep up with our expenditures,” said Ng.
Other notable objective for Ng is to beautify the city and enhance overall aesthetics.
“We want to bring in quality developments that look good so that people can take pride in,” Ng said. “We want people to feel good about the city no matter where they’re at, no matter which neighborhood they live in. We want to make sure we minimize blight and rejuvenate some of our older neighborhoods.”
While Ng has spent the majority of his time in Southern California, both as youth growing up in Lincoln Heights, and later at Occidental College and at work in Lancaster, he’s no stranger to Santa Maria. He lived in the city while pursuing his Master of Arts Degree in City and Regional Planning at Cal Poly.
He says he’s excited to move his family, which includes his wife and two young sons, to the much more moderate climate of the Central Coast and plant longstanding roots in the growing city.
“I’m looking for a place to raise my family,” said Ng. “This is is really the right place to do it.”