MORAGA -- Jill Keimach is no stranger to the Bay Area.

Moraga's new town manager is a UC Berkeley grad who has spent the last six years working in Fremont and the five years before that in El Cerrito.

But Keimach said her time as the planning director for a small, upscale community in Illinois might be most similar to Moraga.

"It wasn't about growth (in that city)," she said. "It was about maintaining and enhancing what you have."

Keimach, who said she enjoys seeing the undeveloped hillsides as she drives to work in the morning, gets that same sense from Moraga.

"My vision is to protect the hillsides, protect the visual clarity of it, which means very slow growth, very thoughtful growth, and to focus on the shopping centers," she said.

Keimach, Moraga's fourth Town Manager since 2008, began work Nov. 1. She took over for Mike Segrest, who was hired in February 2009 but this summer announced he was stepping down for personal reasons.

Keimach was previously the community development director in Fremont.

In that city, she said, there was a clear desire from residents for growth and for a large, visible downtown.

But in Moraga, she said, it is more about refining what is already in place.

Keimach said her economic development experience can help residents have a conversation about what types of retail they would like and then define that vision in a way that is objective and clear to the business community

But that process, she admitted, is difficult.

"If we could say these are the 15 stores we want, by name, it would be easy," Keimach said. "But we can't do that."

Although she's been on the job just less than two weeks, Keimach's bosses are already impressed with her work.

"She's really hit the ground running," said Councilman Howard Harpham. "I see her at meetings and events where she doesn't have to be (there) and she is."

Vice Mayor Karen Mendonca was particularly impressed with Keimach's communication skills.

"You would never know she has only been here a week," Mendonca said. "She communicates promptly, regularly, just excellently, so I'm getting information right away. There seems to be no transition time."

Keimach had to dive right into one of the town's biggest controversies. Her first council meeting as town manager was Wednesday, when the council approved the Dollar Tree application.

Public debate in Moraga is more animated than Keimach is accustomed to, but she said that's a good thing as long as it remains civil.

"(Moraga residents) care about their community," she said. "They love their community, from what I've heard, and it makes them passionate, regardless of their point of view."

Contact Jonathan Morales as 925-943-8048. Read the Lamorinda Sun blog at www.ibabuzz.com/lamorindasun.