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Gotch Appointed Director for Regional Park

Times Staff Writer

Former San Diego City Councilman Mike Gotch, long considered a champion of environmental causes and a veteran player in regional government affairs, has been chosen to be executive director of the public agency that is planning a 43-mile-long regional park that will stretch from the foothills of Julian to the Pacific at Del Mar.

Gotch’s appointment was confirmed Friday by San Diego City Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer and County Supervisor Susan Golding, who co-chair the recently established joint powers authority overseeing the proposed San Dieguito River Valley Regional Park.

Gotch, they said, will begin work Monday at a salary of $68,000 a year. He was selected by unanimous vote of the members of the park authority, which represents the county of San Diego and the cities of San Diego, Poway, Escondido, Del Mar and Solana Beach.

‘Thrilled With the Opportunity’

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The purpose of the park is to acquire park development rights to or actual ownership of privately owned land along the San Dieguito River from Del Mar through Rancho Santa Fe to Lake Hodges, and to combine those holdings with mostly public land from Lake Hodges upstream along the San Pasqual Valley and into the Cleveland National Park for recreational uses, a wildlife preserve and greenbelt.

“I’m thrilled with the opportunity to participate directly in the park land acquisition in the river valley,” Gotch said. “The task is enormous when you look at the focus of the planning area--we’re talking about some 60,000 acres that we’re hoping to preserve. But I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Wolfsheimer and Golding, in separate interviews, lauded Gotch’s experience in land planning, environmental issues and intergovernmental relations and said he is the perfect match for the job, which will require expertise in those three areas.

“We considered going to an RFP (request for proposals) to find an executive director, but that process would have taken two or three months,” Golding said.

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“But Mike was interested in the job, and we all know of his experience, as a former director of LAFCO (the Local Agency Formation Commission, which rules on such things as government jurisdictional boundaries) and a former councilman, and he’s already been helping us on the finance committee for the park,” Golding said.

“He already knows us, has worked with us, and has tremendous background and expertise in parkland, land conservation, land acquisition and land use,” she said.

His work as staff head of LAFCO during the 1970s “shows he can work with multiple jurisdictions and can get along with people of all backgrounds and parties. He’s extremely good at bringing multiple jurisdictions together for the same, common goal,” Golding said. “We’ve seen him bring together people who started out in strong disagreement.”

Qualifications Cited

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Wolfsheimer said she is “very enthusiastic” about Gotch’s appointment. “With his excellent contacts, he’ll be of tremendous benefit to us in our acquisition program and our land management program,” she said. “Having served on the California Coastal Commission and having worked with the Coastal Conservancy, he knows where good grant possibilities exist” to help fund property purchases for the park.

“He has long cared for the river valley,” Wolfsheimer said. “He was the superintendent of the area, keeping it in its pristine condition. He’s got the conviction, the dedication, the energy, the contacts and the ability to do the job we need done.”

Initially, Gotch said he plans to meet with each member of the joint powers board and “learn about their expectations and priorities for land acquisition.”

But Gotch and other park planners are already well aware of, and are targeting, several crucial parcels just east and west of Interstate 5.

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“They are the most crucial ones because they are at greatest risk to development,” Gotch said. “And their acquisition is critical for us to carry out the lagoon enhancement plan.

“I want to meet with those property owners in a true spirit of cooperation. We’re not going to accomplish anything by taking an adversarial position. They’re entitled to a fair return on their property,” said Gotch, who hopes to meet with the owners of the parcels within the next 60 days.

Wolfsheimer said Gotch’s name surfaced among the members of the park authority when they first started discussing candidates for the job. “We all started looking into our address books of people we knew who might be good for the job, and most of us came up with Mike’s name.”

Picked 2 Weeks Ago

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Gotch was named to the post by the authority’s members two weeks ago during a private, executive session. The appointment had been scheduled to be publicly announced on Monday.

For now, Gotch will oversee a staff of just one--himself. So far, staff support for the park proposal has been provided by the San Diego Assn. of Governments and the staffs of the city and county of San Diego, who are the two largest players in the proposed park development.

The park authority is, for now, receiving its operating funds from the county--which, in turn, received them from its share of profits from off-track betting at the Del Mar track.

The park authority, however, has an additional $10 million available to it, the proceeds of last year’s passage of Proposition 70, a statewide bond measure for the acquisition of parks and open space.

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Among Gotch’s assignments will be to identify further sources of money to acquire as much as possible of the 5,400 acres of privately owned land west of Lake Hodges that is coveted for the park. Early estimates place the value of that property at $177 million.

The authority hopes that some landowners will dedicate their land to the park, perhaps in exchange for rights to develop land elsewhere.

In addition to his work at LAFCO and his eight-year stint on the San Diego City Council, Gotch serves on the San Diego Stadium Authority Governing Board. He also served--and then resigned from--the campaign staff of Democratic Presidential candidate Gary Hart in 1987. Later that year, Gotch became vice president of community affairs for Torrey Enterprises, but later left the firm and in recent months has been a private consultant.


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