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After more than 40 years, Villegas retires

When Greg Villegas started working for the Santa Maria Planning
Department, the Vietnam War was raging, the Doors and the
Grateful Dead both released their debut albums, Apollo 1 had
not yet been launched, and the iconic motion picture “The
Graduate” was hitting the silver screen.

It was 1967 and Santa Maria had around 27,000 residents.

Back then there was nothing around Home Motors’ location on
Main Street but broccoli fields, said Villegas, who last week
retired from the Community Development Department for the
second time after 43 years with the city.

He retired in 2002 and briefly worked for a local architect
before being coaxed back to the department. He is retiring for
the second time because of a state Public Employees Retirement
System requirement.

“It’s phenomenal now that I look back. Pepper Tree Plaza,” he
said, recalling his early years with the city. “It was
dilapidated housing. It was the second redevelopment project
the city undertook. I worked on Pepper Tree Plaza Shopping
Center in 1969. That was when I first realized I had a hand in
the growth of the city.”

He began working in the department as a draftsman and evolved
into a position as a planner as both the city and its
government grew. The youthful 66-year-old was born in San
Francisco and raised in Guadalupe before he moved to Santa
Maria in 1970.

Villegas and his wife Donna Eschen, who was a special education
teacher in the Orcutt School District throughout her career,
raised their only child, daughter Ali, in Santa Maria.

The planning process and the profession have gone through as
much change as the city in the past 40 years, Villegas said.
City, state and federal building regulations have made the
process much more complicated. At the same time computer
technology — such as computer aided drafting (CAD)
programs and Internet access to city and county planning
documents — has simplified the work.

“Some of the planners here, when they pull a file from 1970 and
it has my name on it, my drawings in it, it’s probably that
thick,” Villegas said, holding his fingers about a half-inch
apart. “The same (file) today would probably be that thick
(indicting about six inches).”

After returning from his first retirement, Villegas became the
face of the planning department as he met with people at the
counter and processed applications. Peggy Woods, planning
division manager, said Villegas’ friendly nature, along with
his experience both in the city and in the profession, will be

“He has a special skill that really made him a very likable
person at the counter — his people skills, and he has a graphic
design ability. Whenever he would talk to people at the counter
he would diagram things out when he was talking to them,” Woods
said. “He took that skill and used that skill when he related
to the public. That skill is invaluable. We can mimic that
ability, but his drawing was so good that we won’t be able to
replace it.”

Just because Villegas is retiring, however, doesn’t mean he’s
slowing down.

He plays trombone in two local rehearsal bands, one of several
skills his father Eugene taught him when he was young. He is
also a professional photographer, enjoys woodworking, and is a
magician and member of the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

“All 43 years, or whatever it’s been, I’ve enjoyed every day of
it,” he said. “To sum it up, ‘What a trip.’”

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