Few things put as big a smile on City Manager Kevin Duggan's face as his story of meeting the founders of Google. When Larry Page and Sergei Brin came looking for a home in Mountain View, their servers were small enough to fit in a closet. Perhaps it was thanks to Duggan's charm that the city is now home to "the hottest company in the world" as he likes to say.
Such is the legacy of Duggan, who will be retiring April 2 after 20 years as Mountain View's well-respected city manager.
Next June will mark 40 years since Duggan began his career with an internship in Mountain View's then-City Manager Jim O'Halloran's office. His career introduction involved being chased by junkyard dogs, he recalled with a laugh, as he worked on projects related to the redevelopment of the Shoreline area. Long before Google arrived, it was home to a pig farm and wrecking yards.
Duggan, 60, has become one of the most highly regarded city managers in the state, known for creating a culture of transparency and professionalism at City Hall and his tireless advocacy of a balanced budget, allowing the city to be one of the few to maintain a perfect triple-A credit rating. He will be "a hard act to follow," Mayor Ronit Bryant said in a press release.
Starting in 1972 he worked 18 years for the city of Campbell, six as city manager there, but found himself "returning home" in 1990 to take the reins as city manager in Mountain View during a period of turmoil in City Hall. Duggan found it an irresistible opportunity, despite one newspaper describing the City Council as having "chewed up and spit out" two city managers in the few years prior.
No more meetings
After four decades of sitting through City Council meetings, Duggan will finally be able to take a break and move on to what he called the "next phase" of his life, which involves volunteering in the community.
Once retired, Duggan may spend more time collecting bits of city history on eBay, driving the yellow 1968 Toyota Corona he's owned since it was new and hanging out with Herman, the desert tortoise he's had since high school.
"I believe in long term relationships," Duggan says with a laugh.
That appears to include his relationship with the community as well.
"Thankfully I'm not going to say goodbye to the people in the community because that would be the hardest part," Duggan said of his retirement. "I'm glad I don't have to do that. I just have to stay out of the new city manager's hair."
Duggan will be "a hard act to follow," Mayor Ronit Bryant said in a press release.
Former Mayor Pat Figeroa, one of the council members who hired him, said Duggan had more than met her expectations over the years.
"He was always one who has been highly respected," she said. "Every place I would go he was known personally and was well respected and considered to be someone you wanted to work with."
Duggan said Monday that he was deeply grateful and felt honored to serve as Mountain View's city manager, which he described as managing a small city with big city issues home of Google, Shoreline amphitheater, a regional park on top of a landfill, a thriving downtown and a diverse population.
Growing up in Woodland Hills, honorary mayor Buster Keaton was Duggan's first exposure to local government, he said. His family later moved to Mountain View and he graduated from Awalt High School (now known as Mountain View High School) in 1968 and then from San Jose State University, studying public administration and political science.
A good time to go
According to a letter about his retirement, Duggan's decision came "after considerable deliberation" and "with mixed emotions."
"For the organization, this is a good time for this transition to take place," Duggan wrote. "The city is financially stable after having addressed the challenges of the 'Great Recession,' a new generation of exceptionally qualified and dedicated department heads have been selected and we are in a period of unusual City Council continuity."
Council member Mike Kasperzak said the City Council is hoping to get an early start on the search for a replacement by selecting a recruiter before its holiday break.
"It is the most important position the council is responsible for, so we've got to do it right," Kasperzak said. "If you've got the best it's hard to find a replacement."
Duggan's major accomplishment is leaving the city in a good financial position with large reserves. Despite three recessions, he balanced the city budget every year except last year's "Great Recession" when the city borrowed $2 million from reserves. He sent clear messages in City Council meetings about the consequences of letting a deficit compound year after year. The city eventually cut costs and found revenue to fill an $8.5 million budget gap over two years.
"He is fiscally conservative and that's sort of amazing," said Duggan's former assistant, Nadine Levin. "If you look around the Peninsula I don't think you could find another community that could say they weathered this period without any layoffs, used a negligible amount of reserves and essentially balanced the budget. That's a big part of his legacy in Mountain View."
Partly thanks to Google, the city receives $8 million in land lease revenue every year to help fund city services. Google's headquarters sits on city land, as does a CVS pharmacy and the Community School of Music and Arts. Soon, new Google offices, two affordable housing projects and a shopping center may be built on city land as well. Duggan sees leasing city property instead of selling it as a wise investment.
Duggan cut the staff in his office from 60 to 12 when he took the job in 1990, delegating Shoreline Park management, economic development, volunteer services and even graphic design to departments outside his office. The move was praised by council members.
Adding to his popularity among with the council is his ability to stay removed from divisive issues and maintain a neutral position, Levin said. He also has an unusual ability to not take personally the sort of criticism city officials receive, Levin said, and he remains cool in difficult situations.
Perhaps the most difficult situation the city faced during Duggan's tenure was going to court over the actions of former Mayor Mario Ambra, and having Ambra removed from the council in 2001. Duggan and then-City Attorney Michael Martello said it was necessary because Ambra was said to have repeatedly violated the city charter, despite several warnings, and gone around Duggan and Martello to pressure city staff for alleged personal gain. Notes from Duggan's own journal formed part of the city's case against Ambra.
"It took some real guts for him and Martello and the police chief to do what they did," Levin said.
Duggan also stood by Martello in the city's lawsuit against Shoreline Amphitheatre operators Live Nation for cooking the books to withhold millions in lease payments owed to the city, winning a $10 million settlement in 2006. Levin said Duggan was also the first to see that the city needed to launch an aggressive legal battle in its successful effort to retrieve $40 million in Mountain View funds from Orange County in the mid-1990s, when an investment pool collapsed from financial mismanagement.
Building a legacy
Major accomplishments under Duggan's watch include bringing light rail to downtown, completing the Performing Arts Center and City Hall, and building the highly popular Senior Center and numerous neighborhood parks, homes and office projects.
But Duggan is particularly passionate about building the five-mile Steven's Creek Trail, a pedestrian path that connects residential neighborhoods, Google offices and Shoreline Park. The city moved "heaven and earth" as Duggan and the council cheered on the funding and engineering around various obstacles, Kasperzak said.
"To build a trail is good, but to build a trail and walk or run on it as a citizen is even better," said Duggan, an avid jogger.