STPUD hires leader from within |

STPUD hires leader from within

Susan Wood, Tribune staff writer

The search for a South Tahoe Public Utility District general manager ended this week, and the board didn’t have to look far.

Undergoing a few changes on its staff and board, the South Tahoe Public Utility District has selected one of its own — Richard Solbrig — to run the local water and sewer agency.

Solbrig, an engineer who’s been with the district since 1990, has served as the interim general manager since longtime General Manager Bob Baer retired in January to put his feet up at his Fallen Leaf Lake cabin.

“The board was aware we had a very capable candidate in Richard but felt compelled to search nationally for applicants in the interest of providing the very best leadership for the district,” STPUD President James Jones said.

Jones said the board considered Solbrig’s knowledge of the agency’s infrastructure and environmental mandates in California and Lake Tahoe — one of the most regulated regions of the nation.

“I can’t think of any place where you’re juggling that more,” Solbrig, 53, said of all the regulations.

Recommended Stories For You

From 15 applicants, the board narrowed the field to four, with one dropping out for a family emergency, STPUD spokesman Dennis Cocking said. The other candidates were from Colorado and Florida.

Solbrig said he’s pleased with the vote of confidence by not only the board but by the staff. Some employees even gave their nod of approval for Solbrig to the board.

“That was the more gratifying part of the experience — the support I received from the staff,” the Long Island native said.

The level of backing surprised him — especially since he felt he had a tough job filling the shoes of Baer.

Solbrig said he views Baer as a mentor, with the former chief having handed the engineer extra duties over the last year to help him hone his management skills.

Solbrig has a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master’s in sanitary engineering from UC Berkeley.

“He told me: ‘I know you’re a good engineer. I just don’t know if you have the aptitude and skill as a manager of people,'” Solbrig recounted Baer’s words.

Solbrig was put to the test and received much support from the board and staff.

In a water and sewer agency, gaining support can be a tough task because many of its customers may not appreciate the work that goes into providing service.

“People just turn the faucet on and flush the toilet and want them to work. That’s all they care about,” Solbrig said.

Solbrig intends to work on a strategic plan to keep costs down, protect the environment, be a good neighbor and create a response protocol for emergencies like the one Solbrig worked through as an engineer during the New Year’s floods of 1997-98.

Solbrig recalled how the Upper Truckee River flowed over Highway 50 near Long’s Drug Store. In two days, 16 inches of rain drenched the area.

“We worked around the clock, dealing with high flows. Pipes broke and the creek overflowed,” he said.

When Solbrig isn’t dancing around problems with the district around town, he’s cutting a rug.

He likes all types of dancing with his wife, Stella. They have three children — Matt in San Diego, Andrea in Santa Cruz and Sam in Monterey.

Needless to say, Solbrig said he doesn’t mind visiting his children in his leisure time.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at