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Laguna official headed to San Juan Capistrano post

After four years, Laguna Beach Assistant City Manager and Public Works Director Ben Siegel is leaving to become San Juan Capistrano’s city manager.

Siegel, 37, said a recruiter contacted him a few months ago about the vacancy because Karen Brust, San Juan’s former city manager, left the post in September to take on the same job in Encinitas.

San Juan Capistrano officials recommended Siegel after an extensive national search, the Orange County Register reported. San Juan city offices are closed this week, but Siegel said the City Council is scheduled to discuss his appointment at a Jan. 5 special meeting.

“It’s an opportunity I could not pass up,” Siegel said. “It’s a great community with a rich history, and they are in the midst of an ambitious capital plan.”

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Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig said news of Siegel’s departure was a “bit of a surprise,” but added that the move was “a good opportunity.”

“Ben is hard-working and dedicated to making a difference in everything he does,” Pietig said.

Pietig commended Siegel for creating City Council-approved plans for year-round trolley service and parking strategies tailored to relieve congestion downtown, especially during the busy summer season. Siegel also helped the city move forward on conceptual plans for the Village Entrance project, a decades-long desire to revitalize the area near the Forest Avenue-Laguna Canyon Road intersection.

Siegel said he was proud of working with the Laguna Beach Unified School District on an agreed-upon renovation project for the Laguna Beach High School tennis courts.

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Siegel’s last day in Laguna will be in late January, and he is scheduled to start in San Juan on Feb. 8.

The process to replace Siegel is underway, Pietig said, though the public works department will not be without leadership the first few months of the year.

In December, the City Council unanimously appointed retiring Public Works Director Steve May to oversee the city’s preparations for a possible El Niño and utility undergrounding projects. Pietig said the request for May to continue was made before knowing about Siegel’s departure.

May will be paid $100,000 from the city’s street lighting fund for the work, according to a staff report.


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