Goodbyes are so hard, particularly when a person is well-liked and done a great job, such as Erich Haas, who has been director of the Palisades Recreation Center for the past 13 years.
At the Recreation and Park Commissioners meeting on February 4, Haas was recognized for his 20 years of service with the City. His official retirement is this Saturday.
Patrons will miss his even-tempered and balanced approach at handling disagreements and scheduling programming in Pacific Palisades.
“I will miss Ms. Carmen and all the little ballerinas and the wonderful recitals they put on two times a year,” Haas said in a February 8 email to Circling the News, noting that it was one of his favorite park events throughout the year.
“All my thanks and appreciation to RAP Commissioner Joe Halper” (a Palisades resident). “He was instrumental in getting a lot of things completed at PRC before I retired. His support of our Center and everything we did was so important and appreciated. I will miss his unexpected drop-ins just to chat!”
CTN asked Haas to recall when he first came to the Center and his initial response. “I was surprised by the low turnout numbers for youth sports and the disorganization of the office at such a large recreation center,” Haas said. “I was also surprised by the disrepair and dirtiness of the facility.”
Today, the various youth sports leagues are huge and there are often waiting lists. The floors of the two gyms have been completely replaced three times and the outside basketball court was redone twice.
“The big gym rafters and outside hallway have been cleaned of all the dust, all the way up to the ceiling and the recreation office has been completely renovated,” Haas said.
Rec Centers have been closed since last March because of the pandemic, but in September Haas started Covid tracing. He said all City workers are designated Disaster Service Workers when a City emergency is declared.
“I had to go through extensive training,” he said, noting that he was supposed to work out of his office in the Palisades but, “This was quite difficult due to my office being temporarily in the small gym with phone and internet lines stretched out from the office because of the remodel that began in June and lasted until the end of August 2020.
Haas said the initial Covid tracing call volume was low but skyrocketed around the holidays.
“Daily I would be assigned between 10 and 15 cases per day that I would have to call. And from those calls I could end up with 30 or more contacts that I would also have to call. At the same time this high volume of calls was happening, the internet in the office was experiencing issues and it kept kicking me off, many times in the middle of calls.”
Because of internet issues, Haas was allowed to work from home. “The one thing I would like to stress is that this pandemic is real and it can be deadly for some people,” Haas said. “And I would like to stress to everyone the continued need for face masks, social distancing, and good hand hygiene practices.”
Although he doesn’t know who will replace him, he suggests that Chris Wilson, who is currently at the park and taking care of day-to-day issues, would be the right person to take over.
“Chris has been at the Center for more than 20 years as a recreation assistant, and almost two years as an emergency recreation coordinator. He knows the community and the staff,” Haas said. “He is also aware of all current and ongoing projects happening at the Park. In fact, the last youth sports season (spring 2020) which he oversaw, had our largest enrollment ever at 954 youth registered between softball, 5-pitch, t-ball, 4 year old t-ball, and girls and coed basketball. He is the right fit for the Center.”
The Park Advisory Board has also supported Haas. The members are volunteers approved by the City.
Asked for his thoughts about maintaining a strong board, Haas replied, “Keep it diversified with members of varied interests, meet quarterly, elect a new executive board at the beginning of each new calendar year, be mindful and guard against long-time terms (unless institutional memory is needed) and if that is needed, maybe stagger terms to ensure achievement of this objective. Additionally, ALWAYS be transparent, open and honest with the community.”
Haas is planning to retire to Oregon near Portland with his wife, mother-in-law and “furry babies.” He told CTN, “I want a slower pace of life and less people. For my wife….the same, plus my retirement will go further up there. Additional perk for her, which she is looking forward to is NO SALES TAX on purchases.”
The furry babies include Geoffrey, a big 12-year-old black and white cat, “who was a homeless baby but ran into my lap when offered food when he was about three months old. Been with us ever since.”
The couple have a second cat, J, who is about 13. She was a feral and had kittens in the mother-in-law’s yard a long time ago. “She just kinda stayed with us through the years. We could not leave her behind, so we trapped her each time and took her with us when we moved.”
Conan, a two-year-old terrier mix, rounds out the family. “I got him from a woman who came into the Palisades office and asked if anyone wanted a puppy. So, I took him on a trial basis but fell in love with the little guy.”
Haas continued, “It has been an absolute pleasure and joy being the Director of Palisades Recreation Center.” He noted that the community, Park Advisory Board, Teen Council, parents and local organizations have always been supportive of the Center.
He sent a plea to the newly formed Palisades Teen Council, “In the short time before the pandemic hit you did so much…please keep it going after we get back to our new normal. You started a great organization for the Park.”
Haas also had high praise for his staff, saying “you guys are the backbone of the Center.”
To the park neighbors, whom he spoke with frequently, “Thank you for being ever vigilant and letting me know immediately when problems or issues arose so they could be handled immediately.”
He gave a shout out to Mike Tomas and Todd Ferrier with the Tennis Center “for always supporting our yearly community events such as Spooktacular and Eggstravaganza with your booth, presence and funds.”
During his years at the Center, Haas worked with the Pacific Palisades Baseball Association, AYSO, Seven Arrows, Village School, Corpus Christi, Palisades High School, Movies in the Park (where he barbecued the hot dogs every Saturday in August), the Will Rogers Run organizers and Super Soccer Stars.
“I loved the senior activity programs like badminton, pickleball, line dancing, volleyball, and bridge club,” Haas said. “I have come to know all of the seniors who partake in these activities and will miss them terribly.”
In March, Haas will load up a big U-Haul truck and drive north on Interstate 5. Once settled in Oregon, he plans to do some fishing, “which I have missed greatly.” He also plans to get in touch with former Rec Center employee and friend Bill Maniscalco, who relocated to that area several years back.
Haas wants people to know that he hopes he didn’t forget to mention any group, but “If I have, please know that it was my pleasure working with you all.”
As the Rec Center director, he was also a friend to residents. “I give my best to the RecCenter and to the community going forward,” Haas said.