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Details surface about Brown's candidates for state architect

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UPDATE, Dec. 6, 2011: Gov. Jerry Brown announced today that he has selected Chester “Chet” Widom as the new state architect.

An ex-designer and supervisor of building projects at UC Berkeley, two former national presidents of an architectural organization, and the state architect for ex-Gov. Gray Davis are among the candidates being considered for chief regulator of seismic safety standards for public school construction.

Although it is still unclear whom Gov. Jerry Brown will pick to lead the Division of the State Architect, California Watch has learned the following architects' names were provided to the governor's appointment office for consideration:

  • Russell Kent Stewart of Perkins+Will of San Francisco
  • Chester Widom, retired founder of the firm Widom Wein Cohen O'Leary Terasawa (WWCOT) of Santa Monica
  • Stephan Castellanos, chief operating officer at Derivi Castellanos Architects of Stockton
  • Thomas Lollini, an associate vice chancellor and campus architect for UC Merced

Each of the candidates sent to Brown had strong ties to the American Institute of Architects, a professional group for architects.

Stewart served as national president of the American Institute of Architects in 2007 and worked on several high-profile projects, including the renovation of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

Widom served as national president of the group in 1995. As founder of WWCOT, he spent more than 40 years running the firm before retiring in 2008. After retiring, Widom joined the bond oversight committee for the Los Angeles Unified School District and gave input on construction project planning as the top architectural adviser to the Los Angeles Community College District.

Castellanos was chosen by former Gov. Gray Davis in 2000 to become state architect and served until 2006. After leaving state office, he became president of the state chapter of the architects group and chief operational officer at his wife's firm, Derivi Castellanos.

Lollini became chief architect for UC Merced in September 2005, after working for nearly a decade at UC Berkeley. In 14 years at Cal, Lollini helped plan major renovation and expansion projects on the campus.

By law, the position of state architect is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The position wields wide-ranging authority over how public schools are built and how safety standards are enforced.

State auditors are examining the state architect's office after a California Watch series found it wasn't enforcing the state's strict seismic requirements and had allowed children and teachers to occupy nearly 1,100 buildings with reported structural flaws and potential safety hazards. State law allows the identities of potential candidates for state architect to be kept confidential.

Evan Westrup, a Brown spokesman, declined to answer questions on the matter. "If and or when an appointment is made, it will be announced," Westrup said in an e-mail. "We do not discuss candidates for appointments."

Earlier this year, Brown asked the state chapter of the American Institute of Architects to find candidates for him, according to the group's website.

According to the architects group's August message, Brown wanted the next state architect to be both visionary and ethnically diverse. Brown also planned to interview each candidate himself before making the appointment, the website stated:

During conversations with the Governor’s Appointment’s Unit, the AIACC was given the following as criteria for its search efforts:

  • The Governor wants ethnic, gender, and geographic (north and south state representation) diversity.
  • Candidates must be a visionary on energy and sustainability issues, and a leader. They must possess an understanding of DSA’s (Division of the State Architect's) purpose, and be politically astute.

The Governor has expressed a personal interest in the position and as such will conduct the interviews personally. Thus, the timeline for this appointment is dependent upon the Governor’s schedule and priorities. We will keep the membership informed on any developments that arise regarding this important appointment.

Since Aug. 17, 2010, the state architect's position has been filled on a temporary basis by Howard "Chip" Smith. Smith took the post days after the sudden resignation of David Thorman.

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