Former Santa Rosa planning chief breaks silence but sidesteps sudden City Hall shakeup

As City Hall officials remained tight-lipped, Clare Hartman, the replaced 24-year Santa Rosa official, called her hometown employment a “dream job” while praising an “amazing team” of colleagues.|

Days after Santa Rosa’s top official for land-use planning and economic development was replaced, City Hall officials remain tight-lipped about what led to the shakeup.

A city spokesperson confirmed Clare Hartman, a longtime city administrator who had led the department since February 2022, was no longer employed with Santa Rosa as of Tuesday but declined to provide additional details about the circumstances of her departure, citing personnel privacy safeguards.

The spokesperson would not confirm whether Hartman was dismissed or if she resigned but the suddenness of the move suggests it likely wasn’t planned.

Gabe Osburn, a deputy director within the Planning and Economic Development Department since 2015, will serve as interim director, City Manager Maraskeshia Smith said in her three-paragraph email late Monday to the City Council and executive staff.

The change appears to have surprised at least some council members, who said they learned of the move from Smith’s Monday email.

But Smith as city manager oversees daily operations at City Hall, the officials noted, and they’re not typically involved in personnel matters.

Hartman, in an emailed statement, said she enjoyed her more than two decades working in the city and she praised the planning team for their hard work and dedication to the job.

She did not say what led to her departure and declined to provide additional information in a follow-up email when asked about the circumstances of the change.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure to serve the area in which I grew up, raised my family and built a career,” she wrote. “It was a dream job come true back in 1999 when I was first hired on as a city planner and I just never stopped loving the community, the public service, and the amazing team I got to work with.”

Smith’s email on Monday did not mention Hartman or give any explanation for the replacement.

Read City Manager Maraskeshia Smith’s email to City Council members and executive staff

Smith said late Tuesday that the city would not offer additional comment.

As city manager, Smith has hiring and firing authority over department heads.

The leadership change will not shift the department’s focus on planning policies, development review, code enforcement and economic development, Smith said, and added that staff would continue to execute goals outlined by her office in conjunction with the council’s priorities.

Hartman had worked for the city for more than 24 years and had been one of the most senior administrators serving in the administration of Smith, who began her tenure as city manager in January 2022.

Hartman served in various planning roles from 1999 to 2014 before being promoted to deputy director of the department, one of the most high-profile at City Hall, especially in the wake of the 2017 wildfires that wiped out 5% of Santa Rosa’s homes.

In September 2020 she was made interim assistant city manager, a role she served for 18 months, until taking over the planning department.

The department, which houses the planning and building divisions, engineering development services and economic development, has 74 full-time employees and a budget of about $19.3 million.

During Hartman’s tenure in the planning department she helped roll out the city’s governance of adult-use recreational cannabis and her department was charged with establishing emergency rules for the operation of short-term rentals.

The planning department has been spearheading an update of the city’s general plan, a blueprint for how the city will grow over the next 20-plus years, an effort that Osburn as interim director will now complete.

The leadership change comes as several large projects are expected to surface for some public review over the next few months, including the development of the old county hospital site on Chanate Road and the Elnoka Lane property off Highway 12, which was purchased by Burbank Housing last December.

The department in recent years has faced budgetary constraints and vacancies that have made it difficult to keep up with workload, an issue that stretches beyond planning. And the department has faced criticism from developers who have said the planning process has slowed their projects.

In her emailed statement, Hartman said she was “proud and grateful to have worked on many fulfilling and award-winning pursuits” with a dedicated and compassionate staff, especially amid challenging financial times and following several disasters from devastating fires to flooding.

“It’s been an honor to serve among them,” she said. “We’ve been through economic downturns, housing crises and natural disasters. And with every turn we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.”

Hartman said she planned to continue working in the community but did not say what’s next for her.

You can reach Staff Writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or On Twitter @paulinapineda22.

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