Friday, January 20, 2012

Beth Robrahn heads west

City planner and elected official to work in San Diego


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Beth Robrahn is moving to California where she will work as project manager for a newly funded regional bicycle transit plan. Courtesy photo

Hailey Community Development Director Beth Robrahn will leave her post after four years to work as active transportation planner for the San Diego Association of Governments.

Robrahn has left her mark in three cities in the Wood River Valley, as both an elected official and city staffer.

Robrahn will be getting back to her roots in alternative transportation development, establishing bike paths in one of the largest cities in the nation.

"It's a bittersweet move. I have thoroughly enjoyed serving the city of Hailey," she said at a meeting of the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday after helping to define some of the commission's potential goals for years to come.

Those goals will include keeping up the city's sustainability efforts, and addressing street and sidewalk standards under new Mayor Fritz Haemmerle.

Robrahn founded the nonprofit Wood River Rideshare public transportation program and served as its executive director from 2000-2005.

Wood River Rideshare led to the Blaine County Peak Bus, which was eventually joined with the Ketchum KART bus system into the Mountain Rides regional public transit system.

Jason Miller, the executive director of Mountain Rides, praised Robrahn in an interview.

"She hired me and brought me to the valley and has been a mentor," Miller said. "She had the vision of creating Mountain Rides and providing a regional public transportation system. She had to go out and shake the bushes and get funding in place and get the support.

"I'm sad to see her go, but she has a tremendous opportunity in San Diego."

Miller said the bus route that connects the north and south valley now carries 10,000 riders per month.

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Robrahn also worked as a city planner in Ketchum from 1999-2007, returning this week to help facilitate focus groups to update the city's comprehensive plan.

"The comprehensive plans from Ketchum and Hailey in the 1980s and 1970s have the same exact values as the ones today, like diversification of the local economy and the importance of downtown areas and parking," she said. "It's easy for people to be critical that things are not done right. Everyone has an opinion and they tend to be negative, but a lot of positive things have been happening.

"Things slowed down dramatically in Hailey a year after I started in 2008, so we spent time making procedural and organizational improvements, such streamlining how we process applications and trying to be more proactive with applicants for developers and businesses.

"The city is a regulatory body, and regulations are at the heart of planning and zoning. Streamlining is not about eliminating regulations. You just want to make the process easy while maintaining the community character and integrity that the regulations are meant to uphold."

Robrahn said she has "tried to articulate the idea that the entire length of Main Street is not downtown." She said there are instead three nodes—at the Rodeo Grounds in the south, from River Street to First Avenue in the center, and from Myrtle Street to Albertsons in the north.

"The areas in between these nodes are prime areas to think about higher-density residential development," she said.

Robrahn also has served on the Bellevue City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission.

"It was really hard in Bellevue because I felt I could be more effective as an active citizen than an elected official," she said. "Elected officials have a really hard job because you're trying to manage limited resources and you get pulled in many directions. There are so many needs. There are so many things that have been underfunded for so long, it's hard to make decisions about where money goes."

Robrahn will begin working in San Diego in February on the implementation of a new regional bicycle transit plan.

"Bicycle planning, which is critical to transportation, is usually kept on the periphery," she said.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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