City Attorney Steve Schwabauer loves Lodi. Although not a native, he treats the city as if he has lived here his entire life.
“This is a very beautiful town,” he said. “Whatever happens ... this is my home.”
Schwabauer, 46, was appointed interim city manager by the Lodi City Council at a Jan. 15 special closed session. His first day in the new role will be Feb. 6.
He is not only an attorney and city employee, but also a family man who volunteers for local charities and avid cyclist who loves a challenge. While he admits he has much to learn before stepping into his new position, he says he has always been dedicated to serving the city and pledges to continue to do so as its city manager.
Schwabauer will take over from Rad Bartlam, who accepted an appointment on Jan. 9 to serve as city manager of Chino Hills.
Schwabauer said he is grateful for the opportunity to take over the management of the city he loves, adding that his experience working with Bartlam and former City Manager Blair King have helped him better understand the role he is about to inherit.
With various staff reductions at city hall in recent years, Schwabauer said he has already taken on some of the position’s duties from time to time. Many of his colleagues have had to take on various other roles at city hall, he said.
As examples, Bartlam has not only served as city manager, but also as the director of economic development during his tenure. Dean Gualco, the city’s director of Human Resources, is also the interim library director.
“There certainly is a lot of work for me to do,” Schwabauer said. “Because of what management and staff has been through over the years, people have had to be cross-trained to do a variety of duties.”
Because of the cross training he has received, Schwabauer said he understands the city’s budget, where money for the general fund comes from, how the city can get those funds, and what the impact will be if funds aren’t received.
A native of Ventura, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of California, Davis in 1990, and attended Santa Clara University Law School from 1991 to 1992. He earned his law degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1994.
He began practicing law privately in Stockton not long after graduating, first with Freeman Brown until 1998, and then Herum Crabtree Brown until 2000.
While Schwabauer is not a Lodi native, his wife Charla is. He said that when they began dating, he made frequent visits to the area.
Upon graduating from Berkeley and their subsequent marriage, the couple moved to Lodi to be closer to her family. They have since had three children between the ages of 10 and 15.
“I very much fell in love with this town,” he said, noting he had worked in San Francisco, Sacramento and Berkeley while obtaining his law degree. “Lodi knows its roots. We have a great deal of pride here, and I think Lodi is very invested in being a ‘hometown.’ And it’s a hometown to me.”
While working at a private law firm in Stockton, Schwabauer represented the City of Ripon during the Jack Tone Interchange Eminent Domain case in 1998.
In that case, City of Ripon filed an eminent domain complaint to acquire five parcels along Highway 99 for the Jack Tone overpass and interchange project.
“I had always wanted to be in public practice,” he said. “Five years into my career I had a pretty big win in that interchange project, and I realized I felt pretty good about it. I had done something that day where I wasn’t just representing an organization, but a community.”
Coincidentally, the City of Lodi was looking for a deputy city attorney, and Schwabauer submitted his resume.
He was hired in 2000, and was then appointed city attorney in 2004 after serving five months in an interim capacity.
Upon his appointment to the city attorney position, Schwabauer inherited a 15-year-old environmental contamination dispute, leading the way toward a settlement with the insurance companies of local businesses over groundwater contamination.
The city received $6.3 million in the settlements to clean up the PCE/TCE contamination in Downtown.
Schwabauer resolved the majority of the cases, saving the city millions in liability.
“The biggest problem facing the city at the time was mine to manage,” he said. “I had tremendous support not only from the city staff and city council, but from the community. We stood together as a community to face a problem, and we will have to do that again.”
One of the biggest challenges Schwabauer will undoubtedly take on is an expense crisis facing the city. He said the stock market crash in 2009 brought property values down and increased foreclosure rates across the state, affecting many cities’ annual budgets.
Property values drive property taxes, one of the biggest sources of revenue for a city.
Schwabauer said his experience in gathering information, managing teams of other attorneys and finding solutions to problems in those cases is the management approach he plans to use as interim city manager.
“Part of being a city manager is ... hiring people who are qualified to do their job and letting them do that job to the best of their abilities,” he said. “We have very qualified people in the city.”
He added that his time in at city hall has helped him become familiar with the goals of the city council and his fellow employees, and this will be an opportunity to help them make the best decisions for the city.
Schwabauer said while Lodi can often be divided, all sides involved always come together to find a solution to any challenge the city is facing, and the community always comes together to support fellow residents.
As an example, Schwabauer cited his involvement in a cycling accident at Armstrong and Davis roads in 2012 during a charity event. He was racing toward the finish line of the race when the chain on his bike became stuck, causing him to lose balance and graze another cyclist in the fall.
“I was injured pretty badly, and people from all over the community — people who didn’t even know me — found ways to help me recover,” he said. “This is a unique community, to find people so invested in their town and so love it — even if they disagree at times — but they’re willing to find a solution and make it the best place it can be.”
Schwabauer is an avid cyclist when he’s not on the clock, and even rode Alpine County’s Death Ride five months after his cycling accident — a challenging cycle course over Monitor Pass, Ebbetts Pass and Carson Pass.
Schwabauer said he typically cycles with a large group of Lodi residents, which for him is an opportunity to hear their ideas and concerns.
Schwabauer coached youth soccer for 16 years and is now beginning to coach youth basketball. When not coaching youth sports or cycling, Schwabauer also helps raise funds for local charities such as Lodi House and the Salvation Army.
Looking ahead, Schwabauer said the city will be aiming to bring in more development, both residential projects and commercial, the latter of which is expected to generate more revenue for Lodi.
City employees and managers said they are looking forward to working with Schwabauer in this new capacity.
Wally Sandelin, the city’s Public Works director, described Schwabauer as an intelligent and kind man who will be able to adapt to his new role.
“I think one of the things he learned in law school was the ability to adapt to any position,” Sandelin said. “I think he’ll make a great city manager. It will be a different era where we may see some changes, but I don’t think it will be too different from past eras.”
Gualco said Schwabauer has a collaborative managerial style and relationship with other city employees.
“He is a phenomenal human being,” he said. “He is bright and articulate, and I think one of his most endearing characteristics is his empathy and caring for citizens and city employees alike.”
Schwabauer will see a 10 percent increase to his salary as interim city manager.
He said the city regularly gives employees a 10-percent increase when they are moved to a different and temporary position than the one they currently hold.
Schwabauer said he makes $140,000 as city attorney, and estimated he should make about $154,000 as interim city manager.
Ed Miller, a local conservative who for years has kept a close watch on how the city spends its money, said while he isn’t very familiar with Schwabauer’s experience in a managerial role, a 10 percent increase in his new position was justified.
“He seems to be an excellent city attorney,” Miller said. “But I think (the pay increase) is appropriate. He’s obviously going to have increased responsibilities as a city manager, so I think it’s appropriate.”
Schwabauer said he still has a lot to learn about running the city, adding about 60 percent of the elements in each city department are not currently in his purview.
“When you stop learning, you stop being effective,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount here still to learn, and I’m always going to need to learn and re-learn the interests of the community and what they want.”