Peter Naghavi, the deputy CEO and economic and development director for the city of Costa Mesa, will be retiring from the city next week. He will still be on board, however, to help find his replacement and oversee some everyday activities. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / October 26, 2012)

He'll never look at traffic lights the same way as everybody else.

After more than 22 years at Costa Mesa City Hall, many of them in the transportation department, Peter Naghavi is on the path to retirement starting next week.

But it won't quite be the last time residents will hear of the much-respected city administrator, whose latest title is deputy CEO and economic and development director. At city CEO Tom Hatch's request, Naghavi will stick around to help recruit his replacement and oversee everyday activities.

Naghavi's plans after that? Traveling with his 29-year-old son and possibly moving to the south of France. He'd like to split his time between a home there and in Orange County.

Europe, as he likes to say, is his second home.

Naghavi was born in Iran but moved with his parents to England, where he was raised.

He's an alumnus of the University of Texas at Arlington, London University and Harvard. He studied architecture at the latter. He speaks English, Farsi, Turkish and a little French.

After working for a while for the cities of Dallas and Somerville, Mass., a recruiter in 1990 told him about an Orange County suburban city called Costa Mesa. At the time, Naghavi said, he was just "a 32-year-old kid" who merely wanted to see the Golden State. He wasn't particularly interested in changing jobs.

"They asked me to come down for an interview, and I did, just to see California," Naghavi said. "But I liked the area and I liked the city."

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'I know I could trust him'

Bill Morris, Costa Mesa's public services director from 1989 to 2007, said he went out on a "big limb" in hiring Naghavi.

"I didn't think he'd stick around at all," Morris said, "but I wanted to take a chance with him."

Morris, as well as dozens of others, attended Naghavi's retirement party Thursday at the city's Emergency Operations Center, next to City Hall. Adorned with blue leis, they celebrated his years of public service over Newport Rib Co. food and French-inspired decorations.

After some eight months seeing Naghavi work, it became clear that he really knew his stuff, Morris said.

"One of the biggest headaches of any public works director is trying to keep traffic in order," he said.

"I've worked with a lot of people in my life," Morris added. "Besides my father and my oldest daughter, Peter is the only other one I would trust on his word. You do not need a contract or anything. He'd be the only other guy I would ever go into a partnership with because I know I could trust him."

Mary Hornbuckle was on the City Council in 1990, the year Naghavi came on board. She too remembered there being some doubt about the man with East Coast and European sensibilities.

"We weren't sure whether he was going to be able to handle all the nuances of California because our regulations are sometimes very different," she said.

But he quickly fit right in, she said, and gave the council members the confidence they needed to make decisions.