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Anaheim Redevelopment Chief Quits for Similar Job in Ontario

Times Staff Writer

Four months after being criticized by City Council members for his handling of a major redevelopment proposal that finally was canceled, Anaheim redevelopment director Norm Priest has announced he will resign to take a similar job in Ontario.

Priest, 53, said he informed Acting City Manager Bob Simpson on Wednesday of his intent to resign at the end of the month, although he has not submitted a formal letter of resignation.

The announcement came only hours after the Ontario City Council voted Wednesday to name Priest executive director of the Community Redevelopment Department, where he is scheduled to assume his position on Jan. 11.

Ontario Mayor Howard Snider said Priest, one of several candidates chosen nationally by a search firm, was selected because of his “proven leadership abilities and broad experience in Anaheim.”

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2 on Council Opposed

“He has been successful with (redevelopment) projects in Anaheim; he has an ability to work with developers and he is held in high esteem by his peers nationally,” Snider said. However, two of five Ontario council members voted against his selection.

Priest called his decision to resign the Anaheim post “an appropriate career move” but said he had not been looking for another job when he was contacted by Ontario officials.

“It’s a better position for me,” he said of the new post. “I like the look of the programs Ontario has to offer. It is an exciting opportunity because Ontario will be a growth area for the next 10 to 20 years.”

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Priest said that Ontario officials have offered him a raise from the $78,500 he earned in Anaheim but that final terms of the contract have not been completed.

Priest served as head of the Redevelopment Agency for 11 years and was also chief of the Planning Department for the last two years, before the two positions were split recently.

At the time of the split, council members indicated that the job requirements of the combined positions were too heavy a load for one person, but the reduction of responsibilities came after Priest was criticized for his handling of the controversial Katella redevelopment project.

The $2.7-billion, 35-year plan was originally proposed as a way to raise revenue to improve sewer, street and freeway systems in a 4,500-acre area centered at Disneyland. In addition, officials said the project would provide money to clean up substandard housing in the city.

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But the plan quickly became the object of heated opposition by homeowners in the project area who feared that their property rights would be threatened and who argued that the project would mainly benefit big business.

It was Priest who finally recommended that the project be scrapped because of the overwhelming opposition it engendered.

But he took much of the heat from angry homeowners and several council members, who said the project’s presentation to the public was badly mishandled. Councilman Irv Pickler asked for Priest’s resignation at a council meeting in September, but the council did not act on the motion.

‘City Needs a Change’

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Pickler on Thursday called Priest’s resignation “a positive step for the city and Mr. Priest” and said the director had done an “exemplary” job overall.

“But it’s gotten to the point where the city needs a change,” he added. “Certainly not everything surrounding (the) Katella (project) was his fault, but he was the department head and a lot of factors finally added up.”

Councilwoman Miriam Kaywood, who has supported Priest, said she is sorry to see him go. “He got caught up in the heat over Katella, but I think he would have caught it no matter how the project was handled. It was a no-win situation,” she said.


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