Debbie Olson, who believes Lodi can be "a jewel of the (San Joaquin) Valley," joined the city's Planning Commission last week. The longtime Lodi resident and community leader was recommended by Mayor Bob Johnson over 11 other applicants for the seat. The position opened earlier this fall when Commissioner Doug Kuehne announced he was moving from Lodi to Stockton. He will be required to step down.
This summer, Johnson selected his longtime neighbor and campaign supporter Dave Kirsten for a position on the city panel, drawing a split vote from the City Council and some criticism from local leaders. Olson's appointment, in contrast, was unanimously approved by the council, and lauded by those who have worked with her in the past.
Olson spoke with News-Sentinel reporter Chris Nichols on Monday, and provided written responses to questions about her upcoming term on the commission. Her first meeting will be in late December or early January.
Q: What are your goals as a Lodi planning commissioner?
A: My goal is simple: to positively influence the planning process and to provide leadership and sound policy in decisions that affect the future of Lodi.
Q: What makes you qualified for the job?
A: I have a broad understanding of city government, the planning process and current political and economic concerns facing Lodi. Additionally, I've worked closely with cities and city staff from Sacramento to Bakersfield, which has given me a unique vantage point and a valuable perspective on most planning issues facing Central Valley cities.
Q: Do you consider yourself a pro-growth advocate, or are you more skeptical of development?
Occupation: Acting Economic Development, Redevelopment and Housing Director for the city of Riverbank.
Family: Husband Jack; three adult children, Jack, Lauren and Andrew.
• Worked for six-and-a-half years as regional public affairs manager for the League of California Cities.
• Current member of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce General Plan Task Force.
• Current member of the Lodi Memorial Hospital Board of Directors.
• Founding board member for Lodi House, a women's and children's shelter.
• Served as a consultant for several political campaigns, including Gov. Pete Wilson, Sen. John McCain and Congressman Tom Campbell.
• Was born in Vancouver, British Columbia.
- Lodi Mayor Bob Johnson, who recommended Olson for the commission seat.
"Debbie brings vision and enthusiasm to our board, in addition to a sense of caring and compassion for the people of the hospital's five-county service area. I'm sure she will become a welcomed addition to the city's Planning Commission as well.
- Lodi Memorial Hospital President and CEO Joe Harrington
"I think it is a great coup for the Planning Commission and the city of Lodi that she said 'yes.'"
- Lodi Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Pat Patrick
A: I'm very skeptical of uncontrolled growth. But growth can be orderly. I've seen the result of unrestrained growth and what problems it can lead to in some of the cities I've worked with over the years.
In theory, it's safe to say I am an advocate of sustainability, responsible growth management and economic development in line with community needs and the environment.
Q: The commission meetings can be long, tedious and require a lot of reading - how will you deal with this?
A: I'm actually one of those unusual individuals who appreciates open government and community involvement. The decisions that the commission makes are important to the future of Lodi. I would hope every bit of information and as much public input as possible is available to me when it comes time to make a decision.
Q: Briefly, what's your vision for a well-planned city of Lodi?
A: My vision for Lodi is a place where the agricultural community, businesses and civic leaders are partners in building a city that is family oriented, safe and pedestrian-friendly; a community that proudly invests in enhancing our small-town character, cultural diversity and unique natural environment.
Lodi can and should be a jewel of the Valley that provides opportunities for economic development, recreational opportunities, and is both financially and environmentally responsible.
Q: On a personal note, what is your favorite holiday tradition?
A: Our family is very close, but we all lead busy, professional lives. It's very special when everyone returns home to celebrate a Christmas Eve smorgasbord together, complete with traditional Swedish food.