John A. Russo
Photo credit: Benoit Malphettes
John Russo began work as Irvine’s fifth City Manager in July 2018.
John’s parents, a construction worker and a dressmaker of Italian descent, emigrated from Europe to Brooklyn, New York five months before his birth in February 1959. At age 18, recipient of several prominent academic scholarships, John left home for Yale University where he graduated with honors in economics and political science. He then earned his law degree from New York University School of Law.
In 1987, after a two-year stint as a Legal Aid attorney in some of the toughest neighborhoods in St. Louis, Missouri, Russo moved to Oakland where he worked in private practice until 2000. During this period, Russo was president of Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation and treasurer of the East Bay League of Conservative Voters, while donating thousands of hours of his time to various neighborhood associations, nonprofit organizations, and political initiative campaigns.
In 1994, John was elected to the Oakland City Council where he authored some of California’s earliest municipal laws regarding public transparency (Oakland Sunshine Ordinance), urban creek protection, and non-toxic pest management. During his term as Chair of the Council’s Finance and Management Committee, Oakland nearly doubled its General Fund reserves and implemented numerous reforms to promote budgetary prudence.
In September 2000, Russo became Oakland City Attorney. During his 11-year term as the city’s chief legal officer, he created the Oakland Neighborhood Law Corps (NLC) to fight crime, blight, and slum conditions in the city’s most challenged and dangerous areas. The NLC won a grand prize for innovation in municipal programs from both the League of California Cities and the National League of Cities. “California Lawyer” magazine named Russo the 2004 “California Lawyer of the Year” (for Public Sector), citing the NLC along with Russo’s deft handling of a major police scandal.
League of California Cities
After only three years on the board of League of California Cities, John’s board colleagues unanimously chose him to be the League’s President in 2002-2003 – the first City Attorney to be so honored since the Second World War.
Most observers credit Russo’s tenure at the League as a major catalyst for the passage of two state propositions: Proposition 1A (which prohibited the legislature from further raids on local General Fund revenues), and Proposition 59 (which enshrined into the California Constitution an individual right to access public records). In recognition of his service, the League honored Russo in 2005 by making him the first recipient of its “Champion of Local Democracy” award.
From 2011 to 2015, Russo was City Manager of the East Bay community of Alameda. While in Alameda, Russo planned and executed the entitlements for redevelopment of the Alameda Naval Air Station, a 1,000-acre waterfront property across the bay from San Francisco where development had been stalled for nearly 15 years since its closure in 1997. Now known as Alameda Point, Russo’s determination to eliminate bureaucratic roadblocks, and build a feasible, long-term strategic approach, propelled multiple major infrastructure and private development projects, and ensured continuing and subsequent projects, even after his departure.
That entitlement effort, which utilized a vigorous public outreach process, culminated in the property being conveyed to Alameda by the U.S. Navy at no cost. Russo led a team that persuaded the Navy to drop a longstanding demand for a $108.5 million payment, which could have delayed redevelopment of the property for years. Notably, the open and transparent process for zoning the Alameda Point resulted in an unusual result: nearly 1,000 acres of land repurposed in the San Francisco Bay without a single lawsuit, environmental or otherwise.
Russo also balanced Alameda’s general fund budget, dramatically increasing financial reserves and improving bond ratings while maintaining service levels and creating a 22-year plan for repairing and replacing all city sewers and roads. He promoted transparency and responsiveness by requiring city staff to acknowledge all constituent inquiries within one business day. Alameda Magazine
As he did in Oakland and Alameda, John brought a Sunshine Ordinance to Riverside, which extended the agenda publication period for City Council meetings to four times (4x) longer than required by California law. During his tenure in Riverside, John’s administration discovered – and closed – a nearly $10M structural budget deficit through the imposition of a spending freeze, an “austerity” budget, and a landslide voter approved 20 year sales tax increase. These tough measures resulted in improved bond ratings and a doubling of general fund reserves. Press Enterprise
With respect to the economic and cultural development of Riverside, John was instrumental in persuading the California Air Resources board to relocate their air quality testing facility and 400 high paying science jobs from El Monte to U.C. Riverside. John also convinced noted comedian and art collector, Cheech Marin, to donate his collection of Chicano art (believed to be the largest in the world) to a new museum in downtown Riverside. Riverside’s main library and municipal museum, both of which needed dramatic improvements, are now slated for major upgrades as a result of John’s strong leadership.
Russo and his wife have four adult children, His wife, Melissa, director of the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands, is a direct descendant of Orange County pioneers Jesse and Mahala English Adkinson. In his free time, John enjoys golf, travel, watching English soccer and American basketball, and occasionally performing a concert with his Bay Area based cover band, Civil Defense.
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