Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

Calaveras County Planning Director Rebecca Willis will resign the position she has held for the past two years effective Sept. 13.

Willis submitted a letter of resignation Thursday addressed to Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Merita Callaway. She was the sixth head of the department in seven years.

"Calaveras County has posed some of the most intriguing, complicated and challenging projects imaginable, and at the same time, it has also been one of the most fascinating and rewarding experiences in my professional career," Willis wrote.

The letter does not indicate why Willis is leaving or where she is headed next. She did not respond Monday to an interview request.

"I'm sad that she is (leaving)," Callaway said. "She assembled a great staff that she's put together. (Departing is) something she thought that she had to do, and that's part of public service."

"I think it's a loss to the county but she left a very good team that's good technically and very customer-oriented," she added.

During Willis' tenure, the county winnowed down a significant backlog of development project applications and made strides in improving its reputation for service to the public.

"The staff has certainly improved from what it was prior to her coming on board," said Al Segalla, president of the Calaveras County Taxpayers Association, which has advocated for increased private property rights and fewer restrictions on development since before Willis' arrival. "She is a great communicator. She could take complex issues and boil them down to basic principles."

Segalla initially heaped praise on Willis early in her tenure but became more critical after the Planning Commission upheld staff-recommended denial of developments at Sawmill Lake in Copperopolis and on Pool Station Road.

"She seemed to be more sensitive to property issues. I think that was good," he said. "I think towards the later end, the no-growth crowd kind of got to her … with threats of lawsuits. Our thinking about her has changed a little bit."

Willis' letter thanked the board for supporting her on controversial matters.

"Some of the land use matters were difficult due to circumstances outside of our control. I respect your thoughtfulness and courage in making tough decisions," she wrote. "There has been tremendous progress in the county. I am glad I could be part of a transformation from 'the dark years' in the department to a much brighter future."

Callaway said Willis' departure should not be a further setback to the county's oft-delayed general plan land use document update.

"Not at all. She's left a system (in place) here," she said. "She's kept a tight rein on things financially."