Doug Long didn’t find his parks and recreation profession — it found him.
The 58-year-old director of San Carlos’ department was actually interested in animals and got his first job sweeping up after a dog obedience class because, as a junior in high school, he didn’t want to move to Utah with his mom.
From there, he filled in for a sick recreation leader on the playground, was asked to run the sports league and "just started saying yes, yes, yes,” to everything.
"I was getting all this experience to build a resume and didn’t even know it,” Long said.
After a brief detour to a year in law school and some dabbling in radio and column writing, Long returned to parks and recreation in Danville, Vallejo, Fairfax and San Anselmo. He started in San Carlos in 2009 but that run ends Friday, Feb. 8 when he retires.
"So much has happened. It’s been a short four years but a long road,” he said.
Long, whose bald head has led to more than one Bruce Willis comparison, certainly wasn’t lacking in action in San Carlos. During his tenure, he’s wrestled with substantial budget cuts, lingering questions and legal battles over synthetic turf on athletic fields and service consolidations. In 2010, Long was charged with delivering the ominous warning that proposed cuts to his department would knock staffing levels back to 1964 levels, shut down up to four parks, stop mowing lawns and cleaning up graffiti and end traditions like holiday tree lighting. But three years later, Long’s messages were on the opposite end of the spectrum as he adjusted to running a department with a surplus, the city became the first municipality to use an organic coconut-based synthetic turf and San Carlos took over parks and recreation administration for the city of Half Moon Bay.
"It was a complete paradigm shift for me because every agency I’ve gone to I’ve been the change agent. I became known for being able to downsize without cutting services to the bone but now we’ve got a couple of bucks so the next person who comes along will really have an opportunity to improve,” he said.
Oh, and those Bruce Willis parallels?
Now, he is more commonly compared to the subject of "Pawn Stars” much to the chagrin of his wife, he joked.
But reality and action stars aside, Long does have an entertainment streak although he said the television show "Parks and Recreation” killed the public’s perception of what his day job is really like.
Part of the Richmond native’s plan for retirement includes a return to voice over work. He has previous experience for Albertson’s grocery stores in Texas and Idaho, he said, and thinks he’d enjoy another go. He is also looking forward to spending more time with his wife, five kids ranging from 19 to 37 and five grandchildren although intellectual pursuits and dabbling in the arts are also high on his to-do list.
After renting a house in San Carlos the past four years, Long said it’s time to return full time to the family home in Benicia. That doesn’t make the decision to leave easy, though, he said.
"This is a very coveted position and a great community. I’m really, really fortunate to end my career here in such a great environment with a great group of employees,” Long said.
Speaking of employees, several attended the last City Council meeting at which Long was honored. They gave Long a standing ovation as he accepted recognition for his retirement and at least one was heard yelling out, "There’s still time to change your mind.”
Even so, the city is moving quickly on filling Long’s shoes. A wide recruitment net was cast nationwide and City Manager Jeff Maltbie hopes to have an offer made to a candidate by the end of February with a start date soon after in March. Maltbie and the Public Works Department are pitching in for Long’s duties in the meantime but the short turnaround leaves no need for an interim director, Maltbie said.
Long said he is most proud of the city’s downtown events like the tree lighting and annual Goblin Walk. The first year, he estimated 200 people might show up and didn’t even close the streets. Instead, when thousands arrived, Long said he knew he’d made a successful choice.
Long was also proud to see the city respond to the overall economic meltdown and the failure of the Measure U tax measure by outsourcing and out-of-the-box thinking.
"This is a really, really progressive town and it’s fun because you could think of something and it’s not just lip service. Here, there is really action,” he said.
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