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MIKE GOTCH  1947-2008
Politician called an early environmentalist

May 20, 2008

Mike Gotch loved the beach and the desert, and he spent much of his professional and personal time advocating for environmental causes.

A hard-working Democrat with movie-star looks, the former San Diego city councilman and state assemblyman loved the outdoors and relished his role in government.

At age 32 in 1979, Mr. Gotch set a record for winning a San Diego council seat with the slimmest of margins. Four years later he set another record, capturing 87 percent of the vote to win re-election.

Mr. Gotch died Sunday at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla after a struggle with skin cancer. He was 60.

He received praise and criticism throughout his career in public service for his efforts on beach-related issues.

He was committed to his community, said his brother, Steve. “He would sweep the entire sidewalk from his house to the beach,” he said.

Mr. Gotch represented the Council District 6 from 1979 to 1987. He left to work on former Sen. Gary Hart's short-lived presidential campaign before returning to run for a beach-area Assembly district. He served two terms from 1990 to 1994.

On the council and in the Assembly, he represented an area that included Mission Beach and Pacific Beach.

He supported managed growth and worked to open access to Mission Bay by pushing a plan to create a connecting walkway from Mission Beach to Crown Point.

“He really was passionate about his community and about allowing the public access to enjoy the bay and the beaches,” said former aide Mikel Haas, a San Diego County official who was formerly registrar.

Evonne Schulze was Mr. Gotch's chief of staff at City Hall and in the Assembly. “He wasn't one to do things because they got him re-elected. He did things because he believed in them,” she said.

One project that sparked criticism while he was on the council was Mr. Gotch's support for the Belmont Park redevelopment in Mission Beach. Critics said he used his influence to help grant development rights to the husband of his political fundraiser.

“It was a mess down there.  . . . There were drugs, gangs, buildings that were falling apart,” Schulze said. “Mike felt it was important to give the boardwalk back to the community.”

In a 2004 interview, Mr. Gotch said he thought turning the park over to a private developer was the only way to save the historic Giant Dipper roller coaster and the Plunge.

After serving on the council, Mr. Gotch was appointed to the Stadium Authority Board from 1988 to 1990. He was credited with creating designated smoking areas at Jack Murphy Stadium and with getting diaper-changing tables installed in the men's restrooms.

He resigned from the board after winning a seat in the Assembly. Mr. Gotch lost a special election for an Assembly seat in June 1990, but defeated the short-term incumbent in the 78th District a few months later.

State Sen. Christine Kehoe, who worked briefly in his district Assembly office, called him an early environmentalist.

After the Assembly, Mr. Gotch unofficially continued his service to San Diego as legislative secretary to then-Gov. Gray Davis and was invaluable to local lawmakers, Kehoe said. Mr. Gotch, who served in the position from 1999 to 2003, acted as a liaison between Davis and the Legislature.

Kehoe said he helped efforts to establish the San Diego River Conservancy.

Mr. Gotch resigned the position, reportedly after a heated exchange with Davis' chief of staff at the time, Lynne Schenk.

Mr. Gotch was born Oct. 4, 1947, in San Francisco. He earned a bachelor's degree in public administration from SDSU.

Friend and college roommate Mike Hickok said Mr. Gotch's affinity for public service started in college when he learned of a redistricting issue that he believed gave then-county Supervisor Jack Walsh “a raw deal.”

Mr. Gotch went on to serve as president of the Mission Beach Town Council. Before his two terms on the City Council, he was executive director of San Diego's Local Agency Formation Commission.

Mr. Gotch married his third wife, Janet, in 1988. They bought a home in Yountville in the Napa Valley while he was representing San Diego in the Assembly, prompting criticism. In 1993, he announced he would not seek re-election for a third Assembly term because he wanted to spend more time with his family.

In recent years, he and his wife separated. She remained in Yountville, and he moved to Borrego Springs.

Mr. Gotch loved Borrego Springs and was involved in the community, said his companion, Bridget Asaro Myhro. He was a board member of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Anza-Borrego Foundation and Institute.

“He saw Borrego as a refuge, a peaceful place,” said Haas, the San Diego County official. “He used to say that when he got to the other side of the mountains, he could feel the peaceful effect on him.”

Mr. Gotch is survived by his wife, Janet; his father, Howard, of Arizona; brothers, Jeff of Napa and Steve of Glendora; sister, Deborah of Pauma Valley; and Myhro.

The family requests donations to the Anza-Borrego Foundation and Institute or San Diego Hospice. Services are pending.

A celebration of his life is being planned for this summer.