As a civil engineer for four decades, Santa Clara’s Interim City Manager Rajeev Batra is literally a road-builder. And as the first Indian-American city manager in the Bay Area, and possibly in all of California, he is also an emblematic road-builder.
Batra announced his retirement on March 30 after almost 15 years with Santa Clara, and 35 years in public service. While he has found public service deeply rewarding, he says that for a number of years he has been interested in exploring new possibilities for his talent and experience. And the demands of the City Manager’s job in a fast-growing town like Santa Clara simply don’t leave room.
“I was very honored last year to be asked to step up” after former City Manager Julio Fuentes resigned, he said in an interview conducted between half a dozen departmental budget planning meetings. “I thank the Council for putting their trust in me.”
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 immigrated to the U.S. in 1979 to marry his wife. He began his career in the Bay Area working for private businesses.
He joined Santa Clara in 2002, following 19 years with the City of San José; starting as head civil engineer in that city’s transportation division, and moving up to Deputy Public Works Director and Acting Public Works Director. The 1980s and 1990s were a significant period in that city’s development, and Batra played an important role in building the foundation for the revitalized San José that people see today–starting with the airport.
“As city engineers we don’t build the buildings, we build the infrastructure that makes the buildings possible,” he said.
Batra had leadership roles in the Route 87 upgrade from a parkway to a freeway, Mineta Airport’s initial expansion in the 1980s, and San José downtown redevelopment including Market Street realignment and Cesar Chavez plaza. He also worked on some things that are not readily visible but make a big difference to residents such as the bypass under Woz Way connecting Guadalupe Freeway to I-280.
Three years after joining Santa Clara as City Engineer Batra was promoted to Director of Public Works by City Manager Jennifer Sparacino.
As he had in San José, Batra joined a city on the cusp of significant growth that demanded new infrastructure to support that growth. One of the most visible projects Batra led was the infrastructure development that made Levi’s Stadium possible–including the formidable job of moving an electrical sub-station.
During Batra’s tenure as Director of Public Works the Northside Library, the Santa Clara Convention Center’s Mission City Ballroom and Santa Clara’s top-notch Senior Center were built. Four fire stations were rebuilt or significantly modernized.
The streets in the South of Pruneridge neighborhood were completely re-paved. Numerous bike paths were created throughout the City. Traffic calming measures were put in place on many streets. And detailed study by the DPW put Santa Clara in line to receive $2.5 billion in new transit improvements from last November’s Measure A.
The last decade saw the fading Mervyn’s strip mall revitalized into a dynamic retail center, with significant improvements made to traffic control to handle the new traffic.
A new Kaiser hospital was built, bringing the challenge of managing the needs of a major medical center to what had formerly been an orchard. Irvine’s now-thriving Santa Clara Square retail center and office complex was developed, adding the communications giant Ericsson to the list of marquee technology companies with headquarters in Santa Clara.
And the groundwork of entitlements–the agreements about infrastructure, land use, mitigation and vesting needed before construction can go forward–for Related Companies’ cutting-edge City Place Santa Clara retail and commercial development on Tasman Drive–at over $6 billion, the largest in the City’s history–were approved.
Batra’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed by his peers. In 2013 he was honored by the American Public Works Association and received its Outstanding Service in Public Sector Award.
Since being appointed Interim City Manager, Batra has made his mark as well. He jumped into the 2016 budget process, which involved a significantly expanded budget from the previous year. He also launched the City Hall Open House program that “let people put faces behind the names.”
“We can’t be everywhere all the time,” he said. “But residents are. So it’s good to hear from them.” Actively asking people about their concerns helps the City to “find the best solutions.”
“Every moment in public service I’ve enjoyed,” he concluded, “because you get to literally see what you’ve accomplished.”
Batra says that although his official retirement date in March 30, he’s available to help navigate the 2017 budget development. “However long the City needs me for a transition to a new City Manager I’m available,” he said.
“On behalf of the entire City Council, we thank Rajeev for his commendable leadership,” said Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor in a Feb. 24 news release. “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.”