After 16 years as director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services for the city of Santa Clarita, Rick Gould announced Monday he’s retiring in mid-December.
“Rick has played an important role in cultivating recreation, parks and community amenities for the city of Santa Clarita,” City Manager Ken Striplin said in a statement Monday afternoon.
“Rick has overseen the development of the Aquatic Center, the Activity Center, dozens of parks and Phase 2 and 3 of Central Park,” Striplin said.
“Additionally, Rick’s leadership in facilitating recreational events brought many world-class competitions to our city, such as the Amgen Tour of California and Wings for Life,” he said. “We thank him for his service to the city of Santa Clarita.”
Gould, who started his career as an ocean lifeguard on the shores of Santa Cruz when he was 18, was in a buoyant mood Monday afternoon when asked what precipitated his decision to head back to the beach, figuratively speaking.
“I’m old,” he said. “I turned 60 this year and I’ve been working in parks and recreation now for roughly 42 years, so I’m tired.
“I’ve been here a long time, it’s a lot of work, long days and I’ve been looking for the opportunity to retire,” he said. “Financially, it just makes sense at this point.”
A Pasadena resident for the past eight years, Gould plans to relax, read, play golf and spend more time with his wife, Margaret O’Callahan, and their son, Connor, who’s two years out of college and working at Creative Artists Agency.
“There’s lots of factors that enter into these decisions,” Gould said. “The way the public employee retirement system works, you’re really eligible to retire when you’re 55, so I’ve been here five years longer. Theoretically, I could have retired five years ago. That’s a pretty good run, I think.”
Those changes did not factor into his decision to retire, Gould said.
“One of the things that’s going on is that the city of Santa Clarita is growing dramatically,” he said, recalling the city’s population was about 140,000 when he signed on. “We’re at about 230,000 now, and continuing to grow, and organizations have to adapt.”
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Born in San Francisco, Gould spent most of his formative years in the Santa Cruz area.
“I worked for the city of Santa Cruz for many years, from 1975 until about 1998, in a variety of capacities,” he said. “I started as an ocean lifeguard and spent a long time at the beach working my way up. Eventually, I became what most people in California would know as the chief of Marine Safety and Aquatics.”
Lifeguard station at a Santa Cruz beach. | Photo: Davide D’Amico/WMC
Meanwhile, Gould earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History from the University of Redlands (1975-1979), and later a Master of Public Administration degree from USC (1994-1996).
Gould moved into a management position with Santa Cruz’s Health & Safety Department, then took a Community Service Manager post with the city of Pleasanton in 1998, and joined Santa Clarita’s Parks and Recreation Department in March 2001.
As Striplin noted, Gould’s accomplishments in his decade and a half with Santa Clarita are voluminous, yet Gould is hard-pressed to cite a favorite and quick to share the credit with his skilled, dedicated staff.
“There are lots of things that we – and I say we – have been able to accomplish over the years, so it’s hard for me to pick one out,” Gould said.
Golden Valley Open Space
“I think if I’m proud of something it’s the fact that we created a parks and recreation system in this community that will stand the test of time,” he said. “We’ve grown. I think when I got here there are about nine or 10 parks, and we’re around 34 right now, (9,000) acres of open space, trails continuing to grow, good quality facilities like the Aquatic Center and the Community Center. So it’s more about the system than any particular accomplishment. And it’s not just me – it’s everybody within the department and in the city that’s worked to make these things real. I guess you could say it does take a village.”
While Gould at one time considered going for a doctorate, he’s not planning to do that now.
“I might go back to USC – for a football game or an aquatics match,” he said.
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In interviews, as did Striplin, colleagues repeatedly underscored Gould’s leadership skills and deep knowledge of everything related to his job, and much more.
“Rick is the longest-serving department head, I believe,” said Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth. “He came on board during my first go-round on the (City) Council, and much of the open space and the park improvements we’ve seen are directly the result of his effort and leadership. So while I certainly wish him well, selfishly, I’m sorry to see him go.”
As far as a replacement for Gould, “We’re going to want somebody who can carry on the work we’ve started,” Smyth said. “Santa Clarita puts a premium on our parks and park space and we want someone who has that experience.”
Concerts in the Park at Central Park
Although the city’s Parks Department is now part of Public Works and there is no one with the Parks Director title, Smyth said the parks staff and the Parks and Recreation Commission “can certainly manage that role, so to whom the director reports is not relevant in terms of the day-to-day management of the job.”
“Rick has been a tremendous leader for us,” said Parks and Recreation Commission chief Don Cruikshank. “He is just a wealth of knowledge and a very amiable guy. He certainly has been patient with people like me who are new to the commission and trying to get up to speed on all the things going on in the city. So, he’s been invaluable to me.”
Speaking more about Gould’s leadership, Cruikshank said he was a consensus-builder.
“He was able to get people to rally around his ideas or to get people to fall in line and really support things,” Cruikshank said. “He had a way of explaining things to people. Not only did he have a vision, he was also able to convey that vision to others and move things down the road. So, that’s a rare quality – not a lot of people like that.”
Cruikshank also said he was sad to see Gould leave the city.
“But on the other hand, I’m hoping it’s going to be something really good for him in his life,” he said. “I’m curious to see who’s going to take his place. But I’m sure the city will come up with somebody who’s a terrific person, so we’ll see what happens.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste has worked closely with Gould on a wide variety of projects, probably chief among them acquiring land for the Santa Clarita Open Space District, and she values their professional and personal relationship tremendously.
Mentryville entrance | Photo: Stan Walker
“Rick Gould has been a phenomenal Parks and Recreation director – such a pivotal individual, and much more than that,” Weste said. “He’s passionate about history and natural environment, and a walking encyclopedia of what to do right for natural areas, open space, habitat, preservation of lands, connection of trails, and of course creating beautiful parks and an amazing forest complex, attributes, and community centers.”
Weste, a former Open Space District chairperson, views Gould as a “consummate naturalist and has been just the leadership we needed in the city to acquire these parcels” for the Open Space District.
“We have now acquired more than 9,000 acres of open space, and we’re working on a great deal more, thanks to Rick’s leadership,” she said. “He has assisted with preservation of historical sites like Mentryville, working with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, of which he is the representative for the city, and on the cooperative board between the Conservancy and county and the city on other natural lands.
“He’s worked through the master plan to restore the Pioneer Oil Refinery, a key piece of history, the first commercial oil wells and the first refinery,” Weste said. “And he worked beautifully and collaboratively with the county on the restoration of the front of Hart Park. He’s done all that and much more so well. I think we have been very blessed.”
Pioneer Oil Refinery – Star Oil Works
Gould has been a driver in developing Santa Clarita’s network of multi-use bike paths and hiking trails.
“I can’t tell you how many trail miles he’s done, but it’s been enormous work to link our parks, our trailheads, and open space, and creating the hikesanaclarita.com site, which we all use,” Weste said.
“I specifically loved working with him on the Iron Horse Trailhead with the bridge across the Santa Clara River, which is also beautiful, natural, open space and an incredible piece of history there,” she said. “And it’s now artistically manicured with iron plates describing our history on top of an iron rail from the railroad.”
Rick Gould at Amgen Tour of California, Santa Clarita, Feb. 24, 2007. | Photo: Stephen K. Peeples
Weste is equally proud of Santa Clarita’s recreation programs. “We have probably the finest, better than almost any city has to offer. We’ve received award after award under Rick’s leadership.”
Gould was a primary force in developing Santa Clarita’s Arts Master Plan in 2016. “He brought our arts commissioners together and now we’re doing an arts district in Old Town Newhall,” Weste said.
Gould has played a key role in developing Santa Clarita as a destination for sports tourism.
“He brought the big Amgen Tour of California bicycle race to us, and Santa Clarita is a premier location for the tour every year,” Weste said. “I know he’s talking about capturing the markets for aquatics tourism because we have an Olympic pool and a 25-meter pool at our Aquatics Center, so he’s bringing swimming here. I can imagine some of his legwork is going to end up bringing us segments of the Olympics 10 years from now.”
Sports tourism has been a major source of outside cash that boosts Santa Clarita’s economy.
“I can’t tell you how important sports tourism is,” Weste said. “It fills up our hotels, brings in tremendous revenues to our restaurants. People are coming with their kids for soccer matches, for baseball, for swimming. I know hockey and roller-skating are in our future. And he was working on a mountain bike project. We have a wonderful plan for some more of that.”
Weste views Gould’s departure as a “tremendous loss for our city. We’re in the process of putting together many more things this city really wants and the community loves, like community centers and structures and improvements. And he has been great at every single aspect. The man truly is a consummate professional’s professional. I can’t think of anyone who could have done more for this city and the quality of our life.
“I don’t know how to give this man enough accolades for the amazing job he has done on so many levels,” she said. “My goal would be to give him a key to the city. That’s my vote. He’s awesome.”
As to a replacement, Weste thinks Gould’s shoes are large and will be very hard to fill.
“I know the council is seriously going to make sure they get someone of Rick’s caliber, who has the knowledge of nature and the ability to pull all these things together,” she said. “We cannot let our constituents down and not continue to move forward the legacy of Rick Gould.”
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