As Sonoma County's planning director during the 1960s and 70s, George Kovatch ushered in the first land-use policies aimed at limiting sprawl and protecting open space.
It was a controversial position that cost him his job when a pro-business majority took control of the Board of Supervisors and forced his resignation.
Kovatch reinvented himself, parlaying his knowledge of zoning laws that he helped create into a second career as a developer. He co-founded Cobblestone Development Corp., which built more than 700 homes in Sonoma County and Northern California before he retired two decades later.
Kovatch died Aug. 7 from complications related to kidney cancer. He was 82.
“George was the first planner I heard talk about a city-centered plan to concentrate growth,” said James Botz, Sonoma County Counsel from 1972 to 1999. “He was a good man. He saw the county's greatest asset as the county itself. He was trying to protect that.”
Kovatch was born in Athens, Michigan in 1931. His father, a baker, died when he was 12 and he and his two brothers were sent to Southern California to live with family members.
He graduated from Santa Ana High School in 1949 and married his wife of 62 years, the former Jane Hagan, in 1951. The couple had three children.
After a stint in the Navy, Kovatch returned to Orange County, earning planning degrees from Santa Ana College and Cal State Fullerton, while working for two cities.
He moved the family north to Santa Rosa in 1967 when he was hired to be Sonoma County's planning director.
It was a boom time for housing development and Kovatch sought to regulate it. He led the creation of the county's first general plan, or blueprint for future growth, winning praise from conservationists while angering builders.
In 1974, he ran unsucessfully for state Assembly.
He was asked to step down three weeks after a 1976 recall election replaced two county supervisors, including environmentalist Bill Kortum, with business-oriented candidates, creating a conservative majority.