Santa Clara will be welcoming back a longtime City employee as interim City Manager, according to sources not authorized to speak to the press: former Director of Public Works and City Manager Rajeev Batra. He retired in 2017, after serving as Acting City Manager in 2016-17 and is the first Indian American city manager in the Bay Area, and possibly in the state.
The Council made the decision to hire Batra for the top job at its closed session this week. The terms of his contract are still being worked out and will be formalized in the next few weeks.
In 2017 Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor commended Batra for his leadership. “We are appreciative of all the work that he has done as part of the executive team over his tenure and particularly over the past year as the City Manager,” Gillmor said in a news release at the time.
Batra brings a wealth of institutional knowledge and experience with him from his 15 years with Santa Clara and can jump right into current projects such as Related’s multi-billion-dollar development on the City’s former golf course.
Batra joined Santa Clara in 2002, following 19 years with the City of San José. He started as head civil engineer in that city’s transportation division and played an important role in building the foundation for the revitalized San José that people see today.
During his time in San José, Batra had leadership roles in upgrading Route 87 into a freeway, the initial expansion of Mineta Airport, and the redevelopment of San José’s downtown.
“As city engineers, we don’t build buildings, we build the infrastructure that makes the buildings possible,” he told the Weekly in 2017.
Batra led many notable projects during his tenure in Santa Clara, including construction of the Northside Library, the Santa Clara Convention Center’s Mission City Ballroom and the Senior Center. Four fire stations were rebuilt or significantly modernized. One of the most visible projects was the Levi’s Stadium infrastructure, which included moving an electrical sub-station.
New bike paths were developed and substandard streets in the South of Pruneridge neighborhood were fully re-paved. And a detailed study by the public works department brought Santa Clara $2.5 billion for transit improvements from 2016’s Measure A.
A new Kaiser Permanente Medical Center was built, the aging Mervyn’s Plaza was redeveloped and the Santa Clara Square commercial and residential project was constructed.
A native of Rohtak, India—a town about 40 miles from New Delhi—Batra holds B.S. and M.S. degrees from Panjab University’s Chandigarh College of Engineering and Technology. Batra emigrated to the U.S. in 1979 to marry his wife and began his career in the Bay Area working for private businesses. In 2013, he was honored by the American Public Works Association and received its Outstanding Service in Public Sector Award.
Batra’s hiring isn’t without controversy, however.
When he was appointed Acting City Manager in 2016, he negotiated a pension supplement (an IRS 401(a) account) of $12,000 a year for the two years he served as manager — a total of $24,000. However, the City reneged on the agreement leading to a lawsuit that was subsequently dropped. Batra’s salary at retirement was $296,000
Dismissed City Manager Deanna Santana had a similar deal in her 2017 contract: a 5 percent bonus deposited into a 401(a) account, which adds up to about $107,000 that Santana will be collecting in addition to a year’s salary ($465,000) and benefits on her departure.