Retiring Solana Beach City Manager David Ott reflects on career in public service

Solana Beach City Manager David Ott. Courtesy photo
Solana Beach City Manager David Ott. Courtesy photo

By Kristina Houck

Retiring Solana Beach City Manager David Ott has always been one to wear multiple hats. That’s one of the reasons why council members have said it will be a tough task to recruit his replacement.

“We’re embarking on replacing the irreplaceable Mr. Ott,” said Deputy Mayor Lesa Heebner during the June 25 council meeting. “We’ll do our best.”

Ott came to Solana Beach in 2003 as fire chief and director of public safety. He wanted to devote his full attention to public safety after working as Imperial Beach’s assistant city manager, fire chief and public safety director.

“I didn’t hold to my word very long,” said Ott with a chuckle.

Within three months, Ott was also named fire chief for neighboring Del Mar, a position he held until October 2009. At the time, he was the only double-duty fire chief in the county. He began wearing even more hats, becoming president of the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association and co-director of the county’s terrorism response team.

“There is a sacrifice to going up, because your life changes and it’s more responsibility and more time,” said Ott, who currently serves as board president of the Burn Institute, a nonprofit health agency dedicated to reducing the number of burn injuries and deaths in San Diego and Imperial counties. “But the higher you get, the more difference you can make, hopefully, in a positive way and a constructive way.”

While still acting as fire chief for both cities, Ott became deputy city manager for Solana Beach in 2005 and city manager the following year.

Ott was a year into his job as city manager when the deadly October 2007 wildfires killed 10 people, destroyed nearly 1,600 homes and burned more than 368,000 acres in San Diego County. Also serving as fire chief of Del Mar and Solana Beach, Ott opened emergency operation centers in both cities, dividing his time between the two communities — and any “spare time” in Rancho Santa Fe.

“I was going in circles, not getting any sleep,” he recalled. “But I tried not to shortchange either community, so I spent a lot of time in both cities. I felt that was my responsibility.”

Ott has devoted his life to public service, becoming a firefighter after graduating high school.

Born in Grand Haven, Mich., Ott was a fourth grader when he moved to San Diego with his parents in 1963. He graduated from Helix High School and took classes at San Diego State University, where he earned a certificate in public administration.

Ott earned two bachelor’s degrees in fire administration and fire prevention technology from Cogswell Polytechnical College in Sunnyvale, Calif., and two master’s degrees in human resource management from the University of Redlands and organizational management from Grand Canyon University in Arizona. In 2004, he graduated from the National Fire Academy’s four-year Executive Fire Officer Program.

Ott was a firefighter in the U.S. Forest Service, at Camp Pendleton and in Coronado. Beginning in 2000, he worked in leadership at the city of Imperial Beach prior to coming to Solana Beach in July 2003.

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