While he has worked high profile public service positions in other cities, City Manager P. Lamont Ewell has chosen Santa Monica as the place to end his career of more than three decades.

Ewell, who was appointed Santa Monica city manager in January 2006, has announced that he plans to step down from the position at the end of the year. City officials said the early announcement will give the City Council the opportunity to conduct a nationwide search for his successor.

Ewell has worked in public service for 34 years, serving such positions as assistant city manager and city manager of San Diego prior to coming to Santa Monica. He said his retirement will allow him to spend more time with his wife Mary, their daughter Jamila, son Justin and their grandchildren, and he noted that it was the right time to make the decision.

“It is with great satisfaction that I have been able to answer in my work life what I believe to be one of the highest callings — public service,” Ewell said. “I am grateful for all my years of service and especially proud to end my career serving one of the greatest cities in the nation.”

Ewell has been credited with building strong relationships between residents, businesses and city departments in Santa Monica, as well as with effectively restructuring various city operations during his tenure. City Council members praised his leadership as manager and contributions to the city.

“I’m very sorry that he’s decided to leave, but I understand on a personal level that he wants to spend more time with his family and grandchildren,” Mayor Ken Genser said. “I think he’s been a wonderful city manager. He’s been effective in streamlining the management of the city and resolving a number of issues in the city.”

Councilman Kevin McKeown said he knew Ewell was the right person to lead the city from the first time they met.

“It is with the utmost regret we acknowledge and accede to his wish to retire, too soon for many of us,” McKeown said. “Lamont is an inspiring manager, skilled administrator, potent negotiator, and, always, a consummate gentleman. He will be impossible to replace.”

Ewell said he believed it was the right time to step down because some significant projects have been put in place, such as the anticipated completion of the Charnock Well Field restoration in December 2010 and the implementation plans for the California Incline and Palisades Bluff stabilization projects underway. The city manager explained that nearly $300 million worth of redevelopment projects are currently in progress and he helped put in place a two-year budget plan to enable the city to weather through unprecedented financial times.

Genser called Ewell a very smart and thoughtful leader who has been able to make strong connections with city departments.

“He has worked on a number of issues where there’s been a need to provide leadership and thoughtful decision making and he excels at that,” the mayor said.

Ewell believes some of his key achievements as manager were helping to appoint a new police chief, planning director and finance director, as well as developing close working relationships with residents, businesses, and the school and college districts.

In addition to being city manager of San Diego, Ewell became city manager of Durham, North Carolina in 1997. He was previously named assistant city manager of Oakland, where he was appointed fire chief in 1991, less than two weeks before the devastating Oakland Hills fire.

Ewell began his public service career as a firefighter in Compton and was promoted through the ranks there and in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Although he has had a chance to work in several different cities, Ewell said Santa Monica stands out because most community members are eager to take part in the public process.

“Santa Monica is unique in that everyone wants to be involved and insists on the public process so they can be heard,” he said.

He looks forward to traveling with his wife of 32 years following his upcoming retirement, but notes that it will be difficult to leave Santa Monica.

“This is one place that I am sad to leave; I fell in love with this community,” Ewell said. “It’s been a dream job for me.”