County appoints new head of community development

04/14/2021

Marin County has a new leader in charge of climate change planning, environmental review, land use, real estate development and code enforcement: Tom Lai was appointed this week to head the Community Development Agency. Mr. Lai is a Novato resident with a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a master’s in city planning from the University of California, Berkeley, and he has spent his entire career working for Marin County, most recently as the interim director of the C.D.A. since December and before that as the assistant director for 11 years. He will helm a department with over 90 employees and a $20.5 million budget, one that must meet state mandates for an increase in affordable housing stock. Easing the permitting process for development projects by lowering both time and cost is a specific priority for Mr. Lai, who said the county will have to get creative to increase housing on the coast. He is eyeing new ways to help homeowners legalize their second units, such as through a pilot septic program recently launched in Bolinas. Meeting equity goals for his department and planning for climate change are the biggest challenges before him, he said. Mr. Lai is the co-founder of the Marin Asian-American Public Local Employees, a group of county employees that promote professional development, provide a social network and celebrate Asian heritage for Asian American employees. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors commended his professionalism and noted the level of respect held for him by both stakeholders and county employees. “I think what makes a leader effective is being able to listen, to pay attention and to understand what people are telling you,” Mr. Lai told the Light. “I’m a soft-spoken, behind-the-scenes guy; I like to listen to people and to think about things. My goals are to get things done, solve problems and to help my colleagues to do their best. Delegating, trusting and empowering my colleagues to also be leaders is key.” Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said the county was very fortunate to have Mr. Lai at the C.D.A.