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Westbrook slides comfortably into role at city helm
• New city manager taking on budget and planning
City manager Westbrook
Tom Westbrook is the new city manager of Ceres. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Tom Westbrook seems cool, calm and collected weeks into his role as city manager at a time that would overwhelm some newbies. Not only is he dealing with issues related to the coronavirus, but salary negotiations with the bargaining units and the budget are coming up – all while he continues to serve as the director of Community Development Department.

“Every day brings a new little nugget of information that I didn’t have a month ago but nothing overbearing and just continuing to move the city forward,” said Westbrook when queried on how things are going.

Westbrook, 45, who was hired by the city in 2001 as an associate planner, is now in his next eighth title over the past 19 years. The City Council appointed him to take over as city manager on April 13. He replaces Toby Wells who became the city manager of Turlock, a larger city with more demands and paying a larger salary.

Looming large on Westbrook’s horizon is crafting the 2020-21 fiscal year budget, which is expected to take a hit in sales tax revenue. Conventional wisdom says the city can expect to lose about 10 percent, or $680,000. Because of this expectation, the City Council last week decided to hold off hiring 13 positions. The council gave instruction for Police Chief Rick Collins to hire a much-needed police dispatcher. They told Fire Chief Kevin Wise to get a head start on the search to fill two vacant firefighter positions with the caveat that they may not be in a financial position to fill them.

Westbrook has participated in budget talks numerous times since he became a department head but noted “this will be the first one behind the wheel.”

“I’m looking forward to that process (but) still waiting to get the revenue projections from my Finance Division so I can sit down … and figure out where we’re good and where we maybe need to make some changes.” 

Another position the council is holding off on filling is that of Westbrook’s former job, that of director of Community Development, which is essentially the planning director. Westbrook expects to fill both roles for months.

“Whenever it goes out to be advertised will probably take three months and so I don’t have an expectation it will be out for advertisement for a period of time. So I will still be doing the duties over the planning, building, recreation and housing, just like I had before.”

Westbrook knows he may juggling his two keys roles for a while. After Wells was appointed city manager in 2011 he handled city engineer duties until a permanent engineer was hired in October 2014.

Westbrook is hoping the council can hire someone to take on Community Development, saying “there are some exciting projects on the horizon that a person in that role needs to kind of be the lead on and not me. I’ll be on the sidelines kind of looking from above but it’s projects they should be handling and not the city manager.”

Besides a number of commercial projects approved and in motion, there is some interest among the development community to begin building the first homes of the Whitmore Ranch project south of Whitmore Avenue near Cesar Chavez Junior High School and La Rosa Elementary. Preliminary layouts have been drawn up as the city works to complete the Safe Routes to Schools road project on Whitmore Avenue east of Moore Road. The city will offer its feedback before a tentative map is filed. Westbrook is hopeful an application for some development is submitted within three to five months so the Planning Commission may review it.

Also ready for development is the 960-acre West Landing Specific Plan on the west side but nobody has expressed interest in developing any part of that. That could change when the city extends a water service line to reach up Crowlanding Road from Hackett Road and extend back down Whitmore Avenue to provide better water pressure.

Developers of residential subdivisions will be driving the development, said Westbrook, since the city has no plans to extend sewer west past Crowslanding Road.

The annexation area is bounded by Whitmore Avenue to the north, Service Road to the south, the Union Pacific Railroad tracks to the east and Ustick Road on the west. The plan includes the annexation of the G3 plant – once the Proctor & Gamble plant – as well as the Stanislaus County government complex.