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)

"I never doubted what Peter told us," Hornbuckle said.

Former Councilman Jay Humphrey, who began his term in 1994, said Naghavi was patient when explaining the issues.

"I can't say enough positive things about Peter," Humphrey said. "The moment he does physically retire, the city will have lost an important piece. No doubt about it. They will have lost something that was irreplaceable."

Hornbuckle recalled how Naghavi reacted on one of the most momentous days in city history: March 17, 2011, when 29-year-old city maintenance worker Huy Pham committed suicide by jumping off the roof of City Hall.

"Peter was right there," Hornbuckle said. "He showed up, he held hands, he talked with people, he shed a tear with people. He's a very caring and very human person.

"In just being there, he showed his support for the city employees and for the family and everything that was going on."

Naghavi said it was his toughest time at the city.

"While I myself was very sad and could hardly hold my tears back, I felt the weight of the entire City Hall on my shoulders, as I felt it was up to me to provide the soft, yet stable and strong presence for the rest of the staff who were confused and in disbelief," he wrote in an email. "I always have been good in talking to people, but those days, I didn't know what to say … this kept me up many hours at night."

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'The perfect public servant'

Some years ago, Costa Mesa resident and blogger Geoff West had made an appointment to speak with Naghavi over lunch. The two were to meet at Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill in South Coast Plaza.

A small earthquake, however, had shaken things up — literally and figuratively — that afternoon.

Naghavi was 30 minutes late. West tried calling Naghavi at City Hall. No luck.

Eventually, he did see Naghavi coming — as quickly as he could.

"I saw him sprinting down the parking lot," West said. "I shook his hand, and he said, 'Sorry, I have to go back to City Hall. The building is in chaos. The phone system is out.'"

Naghavi wanted to keep his appointment somehow, West said, even though an emergency had impeded communication.

"He's probably the perfect public servant," West added, the real "go-to" guy who's service-oriented.

Helen Nenadal, president of the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. and a nearly 30-year Costa Mesa employee, said for Naghavi, "It didn't matter what job you had or what level you were at, he was always there for us employees."

He respected the staff, and they respected him in return, she said.

"The employees felt they could go to him for anything," Nenadal said.