Santa Maria’s new planning manager developed a passion for planning at a young age when she watched her hometown change from idyllic country setting to vast suburban sprawl.

Ryan Hostetter said the way her rural Sacramento-area home changed made an impact on her. She wanted to know how land-use decisions were made and to help be a part of those decisions.

“We had so much sprawl to the point that it changed the face of the whole city. Traffic problems became really horrible; it changed the character of the whole area,” she said.

That curiosity and drive to be a part of the land-use planning process took her to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, then to a position with the city of Arroyo Grande and a 15-year term with San Luis Obispo County before taking the lead of Santa Maria’s Planning Division earlier this month.

Her new position is part of the city’s Community Development Department, which oversees building plans and permits, short- and long-term planning for the city’s future growth and supports the city's Planning Commission.

Hostetter replaces former Planning Manager Peter Gilli, who left Santa Maria in May for a position with the city of Thousand Oaks.

“Santa Maria is really at a crossroads right now,” Hostetter said. “There is this great bit of history and authenticity to the city, and I think that there is a lot of development potential and pressure as well. It is a matter of balancing and making sure that authenticity is carried forward.”

Hostetter said she plans to make time to help out at the Planning Division’s front desk to meet the people who use her division’s services. She also plans to ride along with building inspectors to get to know the projects that are happening in the city right now.

“I want to get out there, see things for myself and really get to know the community,” Hostetter said.

When asked what she wants everyone to know most, she said, “I want people to feel comfortable just picking up the phone and talking to me. I am so happy to talk to anybody and learn from the residents and the community."

She added, “It is not about me and my vision, it is about the community’s vision."

Hostetter brings with her a vast amount of experience working on large projects like the Phillips 66 rail spur project in San Luis Obispo County and the Topaz Solar Farm near the Carrizo Plains and she frequently worked with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. with regard to the Diablo Canyon Power Plant.

Community Development Department Director Chuen Ng said he chose Hostetter for the position because of her experience and desire to build community.

"I was looking for someone who would work well with our community stakeholders and be able to establish meaningful relationships with members of the development community," Ng said. "So far, I have found her to be an excellent communicator and team builder.”

When Hostetter is not working, she spends a lot of time outdoors, which comes from growing up on a farm and riding horses. When she moved to the Central Coast to attend Cal Poly, she had to leave her horse behind but soon picked up a bicycle.

For 10 years, she competed as a semiprofessional bicycle racer.

“It is a very healthy outlet for me. I enjoy being out there on the bike. It is a great way to see your community,” Hostetter said.

When she is not riding her bike, she is backpacking and climbing in the mountains.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.