WATSONVILLE -- During the past three decades, the city Public Works and Utilities Department has built bridges and trails. It created a recycling program that diverts 70 percent of city trash from the dump. It improved storm drains to reduce flooding and the capacity to treat wastewater so it can be used to irrigate crops.
The department has constructed more than 50 miles of sewers, installed more than 20,000 water meters, replaced 3,000 toilets and developed a unique environmental education program that's served more than 40,000 students.
Its crews helped the city recover from a major earthquake and sandbagged levees during storms.
The list of accomplishments goes on and on. As five icons of the department retire this month, it's a legacy they look back on with pride.
The five retirees -- Director David Koch, Deputy Director Bob Geyer, Operations Manager Carl Johnson, Field Services Manager Omar Guerrero and Administrative Assistant Carol Thomas -- represent more than 150 years of city experience.
"It's definitely a sea change," said City Manager Carlos Palacios. "That leadership has been there for so many years, and created such a great department. It's a big thing in city history that they are all retiring. We'll miss them greatly."
Palacios named Assistant Director Steve Palmisano, an 18-year veteran of Public Works, interim director of the city's largest department, employing 140 workers.
The annual salary range for a public works director is $117,012 to $156,811, according to the city website. As water division manager in 2011, Palmisano earned $121,346.
Koch said the department's success has been a team effort. He's most proud of the ethic they leave behind.
"The culture we built is one that people are always trying to improve things, and are willing to take some risks," Koch said. "No one has the attitude, that's not my job. If there is a problem, they'll all figure it out."
Geyer, an avid hiker who's worked in municipal government for 38 years, the past 22 in Watsonville, beams when he talks about city trails. He oversaw the creation of 10 miles of pedestrian and cycling pathways, seven along the city's sloughs and another three along the Pajaro River. He also developed a long-range plan for 33 miles of city trails, recently approved by the City Council.
Guerrero started working for the city parks department in 1973 and worked his way up to management. He leaves knowing his emphasis on safety kept his crews from serious harm, despite sometimes dangerous work in trenches and on roads.
"I didn't lose a single person," he said.
The retirees said they stayed as long as they did because their co-workers made the department a great place to work. The boss may have had something to do with that.
Thomas said it wasn't a coincidence that all five were leaving now.
"The main reason," she said, "is that David is retiring."
Follow Sentinel reporter Donna Jones on Twitter at Twitter.com/DonnaJonesSCS
At a Glance
Five leaders in Watsonville Public Works and Utilities are retiring
David Koch: director, 30 years
Bob Geyer: deputy director, 22 years
Omar Guerrero: field services manager, 39.5 years
Carl Johnson: operations manager, 22 years
Carol Thomas: administrative assistant, 27 years