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San Diego City Hall / Photo by Sam Hodgson

A high-level city manager tasked with coordinating the city’s coronavirus response abruptly left his post last month and city officials aren’t explaining why.

Deputy Chief Operating Officer Bob Vacchi’s last day at the city was July 2.

Vacchi, a well-respected city official who oversaw city libraries and parks among other departments, had previously served as director of development services and worked on park and land use issues in the city attorney’s office.

City spokesman Craig Gustafson would not elaborate on what led to Vacchi’s departure, citing personnel reasons.

Vacchi also did not return messages from Voice of San Diego this week.

Vacchi’s exit does not appear to be tied to the city’s missteps on the 101 Ash St. project that led Assistant Chief Operating Officer Ron Villa and Real Estate Assets Director Cybele Thompson to resign in recent months. Vacchi was not directly involved in the real estate debacle.

On Vacchi’s final day with the city, Chief Operating Officer Kris Michell announced that Purchasing and Contracting Department Director Kristina Peralta would fill Vacchi’s role on an interim basis. Michell did not explain why Vacchi had left, and only wrote in an email to city staff that he was “no longer with the city of San Diego.”

Gustafson said Joel Day, the director of the city’s office of boards and commissions, has since taken over Vacchi’s duties overseeing the city’s response to COVID-19.

Vacchi’s departure last month surprised city hall insiders who have long seen him as an engaged and even-keeled bureaucrat who played by the rules.

San Diego Planning Commissioner Vicki Granowitz, who once led the North Park planning committee, said she was impressed in 2014 when Vacchi and the District 3 City Council office proactively called a meeting to discuss potential solutions following a gun battle at an illegal North Park marijuana dispensary that rattled area business owners.

More recently, Granowitz said Vacchi was responsive and willing to meet to discuss her concerns about the city’s request for proposals to redevelop an area of Balboa Park known as Inspiration Point, a step that park activists decried.

“I called and said that the city was dealing with the Inspiration Point (request for proposals) in a totally inappropriate manner, which you don’t normally do and get a good response,” Granowitz said.

The city ultimately quashed those plans.

In a memo announcing Vacchi’s appointment to deputy chief operating officer for neighborhood services in 2018, Michell hailed his accomplishments as development services director.

“Bob Vacchi has made organizational improvements including culture change, instituted greater customer service, overseen major technology improvements, worked with stakeholders to institute regulatory reform and supported efforts to improve housing affordability,” Michell wrote in the June 2018 memo. “In addition to his current expertise, his past experience at the city, including a stint with the city attorney’s office and overseeing neighborhood code enforcement, has equipped him with a keen sense of neighborhood needs and an ability to work with people on difficult issues.”

Last fall, Vacchi and other city leaders drew some scrutiny after Vacchi penned a memo to Michell and Mayor Kevin Faulconer revealing that an internal investigation had found that a park and recreation staffer had misappropriated funds from recreation council accounts.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Vacchi, Michell and other city officials did not notify city auditors of the issue and that the former employee had been charged with a dozen felonies and an aggravated white-collar crime enhancement amid allegations she stole more than $100,000.

Vacchi later defended his decision not to loop in city auditors and noted that city park officials had instituted changes to try to prevent future thefts.

“The City Auditor’s Office doesn’t have the authority to prosecute criminal charges,” Vacchi wrote in a statement sent to the Union-Tribune last year. “We’re confident the operational changes we’ve made to largely eliminate cash handling at Parks & Recreation facilities have significantly reduced the potential for theft like this to occur going forward.”

Gustafson did not respond to VOSD’s questions about whether Vacchi’s departure may have been linked to that incident or any other management issues, including his more recent work on coronavirus efforts.

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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