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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Official Paved the Way to Success

Government: Public Works Director Art Goulet retires today, and both his backers and critics say he skillfully engineered road and building projects.

March 30, 2000|GINA PICCALO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One picture stands apart from the plaques, awards and the "no whining" sign on the wall of Art Goulet's comfortable corner office. It shows the retiring Ventura County public works director jumping rope, straining to reach his goal of 3,000 repetitions in 35 minutes.

It's this kind of energy, his admirers say, that has fueled Goulet's 22-year tenure and led to some of the county's most important projects.

As the master of details that govern Ventura County roads, sewers and buildings, Goulet led the completion of the county administration building, courthouse and 439-bed jail. He also oversaw construction of the sheriff's station in Thousand Oaks, the extension of Victoria Avenue that linked Oxnard and Ventura, renovation of the Ventura County Medical Center and building of the Todd Road Jail near Santa Paula.

Goulet, 62, leaves his 360-member staff today to spend more time tinkering at his workbench in his Camarillo home and traveling with his wife, Judy, and their two grandchildren. Deputy Director of Public Works John Crowley has been appointed to the position until a new manager is named.

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With Goulet's departure, state lobbyists, county supervisors and managers say they've lost an invaluable expert in the field and a straight-shooter, guided by pragmatism, not politics.

Even Supervisor John Flynn, an ardent critic of Goulet's decisions in awarding contracts and prioritizing projects, praised the public works director for his meticulous work. He called him a man who "thinks around principles."

"I've seen his car in the parking garage long after everyone else's car had left," Flynn said. "What was he doing? He was paying attention to details."

Goulet describes himself as a "semi-workaholic." He was out of the office just five weeks in 1998 after major surgery to implant an artificial heart valve and back to jumping rope within a few months.

In the constant battle for state and federal money to build and maintain roads and flood channels, Goulet's legal expertise became a secret weapon for lobbyists.

"Every time we've had to address the need for more money for disaster assistance or flood-control projects he's been able to articulate the message," said DeAnn Baker, a lobbyist with the California State Assn. for Counties. "Art Goulet's the one we've called on."

Even as a boy, Goulet loved to build things. A Bronx native and the son of a stockbroker, Goulet said he never felt at ease in the city and spent most weekends camping with the Boy Scouts.

He graduated from high school at age 16, a year after his father died, and went to Cooper Union School of Engineering in New York City. Eventually, Goulet led other engineering students on weekend camping excursions.

In 1958, a 21-year-old Goulet set off for Southern California with friends who wanted jobs in the booming aerospace industry. He fell in love with the warm climate and wide blue skies of the West and spent two years with Caltrans designing, inspecting and surveying construction of Interstate 15 through the city of San Bernardino.

"I used to see more people on the subway in New York than there were in the whole city of San Bernardino," he said, chuckling.

Goulet returned to the East Coast to earn the equivalent of a master's degree in his field--a certificate in highway traffic at Yale University.

A job offer with the city of San Bernardino as top traffic engineer brought him back to California in 1961. By age 28, Goulet was director of public works for the city of Corona in Riverside County.

In the early 1970s, Goulet and a friend started a civil engineering firm, but the consulting venture was short-lived.

"I got bored being a consultant," he said. "I needed more challenge than that. I needed more variety than that."

When Goulet came to Ventura County, he established a new program of contracting work out, action that helped stabilize the department's work force. The change meant county budgets would no longer spike with the unsteady trends in the construction industry.

"One of the key things was to get a stable of consultants that we could use rather than staffing up for [each project]," he said. "We moved from doers to managers."

Although Goulet is retiring before the completion of a planned underwater dam in Westlake Lake in Thousand Oaks, Supervisor Frank Schillo credits him with saving homeowners the expense of constantly dredging the lake. Nearly 50 oak trees will be saved from removal during the Lang Creek Dam project thanks to Goulet's expertise, Schillo said.

"He knew most of the pitfalls that you run into when you're doing a project," said Schillo. "He could advise you from the legal standpoint as well as from the public works standpoint, because he's been through it."

After Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, the way federal gas tax money was allocated changed. Goulet was poised to realize the shift could threaten funding for communities statewide.

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So, he drafted state legislation to ensure a portion of that money was guaranteed for local municipalities, a bill that passed in 1992.

Baker, who has worked with Goulet for 12 years, said his efforts saved local governments millions of dollars.

"If I had five Art Goulets, I would have been dangerous," Baker said. "I should be thanking all of Ventura County for sharing him with us."

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