Bob the Builder: City public works director retires after three decades

Robert Newman, the city of Santa Clarita's director of public works, sits in his office at City Hall for the last time. Newman announced his retirment after years of serving and building the Santa Clarita Valley. Jose Herrera/The Signal

If you’ve ever driven on a bridge, traveled down a road or looked at a large building or commerce center in the city of Santa Clarita, you’re probably interacting with something that bears the fingerprints of Santa Clarita Public Works Director Robert Newman. 

For 27 years, Newman, who retired this week, has worked in City Hall, putting together construction and development projects that he believes have greatly benefited local residents.  

For more than a dozen bridges, hundreds of miles of road, thousands of homes, countless building sites and more than $1 billion in construction projects, Newman has been a part of the city’s development. From the renovation of Downtown Newhall, to the new Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, to the Newhall Ranch/Golden Valley Road cross-valley connector, his nearly three-decade tenure in the Public Works department ushered it from vision to completion.  

Robert Newman, the city of Santa Clarita’s director of public works, holds his plaque which recognizes his contributions for the completition of the Cross Valley Connector Road in 2010. Jose Herrera/The Signal

“It’s neat,” said Newman when asked how it feels to see his projects and vision from the city general plan come to be. “I live in the community and work in the community. That’s a unique situation. I can’t go to a kid’s birthday party without somebody asking me a question about this or that or asking ‘how’s this happen?’ or ‘can you fix this (traffic signal) timing’ or ‘can you fix this or…’” 

Newman first came to the city in the early 1990s, and after adventuring into a three-year hiatus, the engineer ultimately returned to his posting in the SCV, becoming the public works director in 2001.  

And from his office overlooking Valencia Boulevard, a view of the Valencia Town Center — another project he worked on that, when he first arrived in City Hall, was just a dirt field — he has helped develop, expand and cultivate Santa Clarita as we know it.  

Headlights reflected on Newhall Ranch Road in Valencia. Dan Watson/The Signal

“Somebody explained it to me long ago and said, ‘OK, you got a typical bell curve you see in a distribution, right?’ Newman said. “I’m an engineer so I’m technical — ’there’s 2-3% out here on the left side and 3% on the right side. Those 2-3%, no matter what you do, they still won’t be happy. But most of us fit in kind of the middle.” 

Although he says he is proud individually of all his products, one of the many mementos that sits on his wall is a plaque recognizing his work on the cross-valley connector, running east to west and vice versa throughout the whole of Santa Clarita — finally connecting a community that has been around for generations. 

“It gives the community an enhancement or benefit,” said Newman. “Without Golden Valley (Road) you wouldn’t have the access to the Sports Complex or you wouldn’t have access to the freeway. Soledad Canyon has some congestion but without Golden Valley it’d be even more significant.”  

In 2017, Newman, who at the time oversaw roughly 135 full-time employees and managed the divisions of Building and Safety, Capital Improvement Projects/Parks and Trails Planning, Engineering Services, General Services, and Traffic and Transportation Planning, was awarded the American Public Works Association’s “Top 10 Public Works Leaders recognition.”  

The city of Santa Clarita presented Robert Newman, the director of public works, with a plaque in 2010, recognizing his contributions and dedication to the Cross Valley Connector Road. Jose Herrera/The Signal

“Robert Newman exemplifies skills of leadership and integrity,” said then-Mayor Cameron Smyth in a statement at the time about the award. “He’s been with the city for nearly 25 years and has always been a strong strategic leader and wonderful mentor for his staff.” 

With Friday being his last day at City Hall, his desk was empty save for his computer monitor displaying a few emails he has left to send. The various awards and trinkets he’s collected over the years sat in boxes or hung on the wall for only a few moments longer. And even a dance team trophy he won with his fellow coworkers was set to be packed. 

“I’m proud of all of them,” said Newman, when asked again which project was his favorite. He added there are many great things he looks forward to seeing completed — even after he’s retired.  

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