Nominee for Seattle community development office brings immigrant perspective, holistic approach

Seattle City Hall. (Photo by City of Seattle via Flickr.)
Seattle City Hall. (Photo by City of Seattle via Flickr.)

Sam Assefa, the senior urban designer for the city of Boulder, Colorado, is Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s pick to head the new Office of Planning and Community Development.

The Office of Planning and Community Development launched at the start of the year to coordinate community development plans across departments. The department also plays a role in Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, according to the mayor’s press release.

Assefa, whose nomination would need to be confirmed by the city council, has been director of Special Projects for the Department of Planning and Development for the city of San Francisco, the director of Land Use and Planning Policy for the city of Chicago and deputy chief of staff to former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

The press release on Assefa’s nomination also cites his “perspective as an immigrant to the United States, having fled Ethiopia as a teenager when his father was killed in a coup.” Assefa also served on San Francisco’s Immigrant Rights Commission, the press release notes.

“I have always admired the City of Seattle for its natural beauty, innovative spirit and strong commitment to social justice,” Assefa said in a prepared statement. “I am thrilled at this opportunity to help implement Mayor Murray’s vision for building thriving and vibrant communities through an integrated and equitable approach to city planning and community development.”

“Sam Assefa brings leadership and a holistic approach to urban planning that integrates land use, transportation, design and sustainability,” Murray said in a prepared statement. “Throughout his career, Sam has shown a passion for placemaking and a commitment to working with all communities to solve the challenges of growth. His experience will be invaluable to implementing our shared vision for building neighborhoods that are affordable, livable and equitable.”

Assefa has a master’s degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Assefa would replace interim office head Diane Sugimura, who recently retired as the city’s director of the Department of Planning and Development. Assefa is expected to start June 1, with an annual salary of $167,000, according to the press release.