Pravani Vandeyar recently was appointed by City Manager Howard Chan to direct the Department of Utilities.
Vandeyar, who has more than 28 years experience in the environmental industry, is the first woman and the first person of color to lead the department.
Chosen as part of a national recruitment, she replaces former Utilities Director Bill Busath, who retired in December.
“Pravani was appointed to this position because, for the past 16 years, she has demonstrated the ability to lead, communicate effectively and has shown resiliency,” Chan said. “She has my full support and confidence to lead this dynamic department.”
Vandeyar, who has worked for the department since 2007, said she was honored by the appointment and appreciative of the positions within DOU that she previously held.
“I’ve been really fortunate in everything I’ve done over the years,” she said. “I’ve always been passionate about what I’m doing. It keeps me engaged and keeps me focused in moving things forward in a positive way.”
Born in South Africa of African and Asian heritage, Vandeyar said her experiences of growing up under apartheid affected her views of racial equity.
“Everything was separated, and the service you received as a person of color was always ‘less than,’” she said.
She recalled an experience as a child when she and her parents were forced to use the back entrance to a restaurant, a common occurrence at the time.
“That defined a lot of who I am as a person,” she said. “I developed the need to ensure that everybody was treated the same.”
She said she also was defined by Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment and subsequent release.
“[I was] working and protesting and trying to help people see what was so unfair about apartheid. My last year of high school was when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and that was huge.”
Vandeyar attended one of Mandela’s speeches after his release. It was held at a large stadium. She said that being together with hundreds of thousands of people who share the same belief in equity helped solidify her views.
Years later, she would visit the Unites States for the first time to spend time with her brother and sister.
“The one thing that stood out to me at that time was that they were not living under the same conditions that I was living in,” she said. “The crime rate in South Africa was very high, and that meant that you were not safe.”
Seeking better conditions, she moved permanently to the U.S. in 2000 and continued her career in chemistry, doing research and project management for water and wastewater agencies. Later, a friend would refer her to a job opening at the City of Sacramento.
“I looked it up and the rest is history,” she said.
Vandeyar began her career with the City as a supervising water-quality chemist and later became the City’s drinking water division manager, where she oversaw water production, water maintenance, water distribution, water quality and research and development.
She said that even though she has been in many varied positions over the years, she is still a researcher at heart.
“The common thread that has been through every position I’ve been in, including this one, is the constant learning and figuring out where you go next,” she said.