After more than 30 years of policing an often-restless campus in Berkeley, Mitch Celaya has left it all behind for small-town life in the Napa Valley.
Celaya, who became Calistoga police chief at the beginning of the year, was previously the University of California, Berkeley, Police Chief for three years, after working his way up the ranks beginning as an officer in 1982.
“It is a quality of life change," said Celaya of his move to Napa's northernmost city, with its population a mere fraction of the UC Berkeley community's.
"I had gone as far as I could at the university. I had met many challenges and accomplished many goals. I was toying with retirement, when the Berkeley police chief told me about the opening in Calistoga," Celaya said.
At that time, former interim Calistoga Police Chief Susan Jones was at the helm, commuting from Healdsburg where she is the city's mayor.
“We are friends. I called her, and she sold me on the idea of applying for the job,” he said. “I went for a ride along with an officer and loved what I saw. So, I decided to toss my hat into the ring.”
His interview went well, Celaya said. "I liked what I heard, and the panel must have liked what they heard, and I here I am.”
City's Hispanic population has increased to 50 percent
Calistoga City Manager Richard Spitler has no doubt the city made the right decision in hiring Celaya as its police chief.
“We had narrowed it down to four candidates. He was what we were looking for in his leadership and energy for the department. We wanted someone who would re-engage the (police) department with the community, so the department could get the positive recognition they need,” Spitler said.
“He is enthusiastic and has the energy to get the job done. His employment with UC Berkeley has also given him the experience we were looking for in the candidates’ diversity. In the past 20 years, Calistoga’s Hispanic population has risen from 30 percent to 50 percent.”
Coming from a university with a population of about 44,000 student, administrators and staff to Calistoga’s 5,200 residents, Celaya is taking it all in stride.
“My biggest challenge is the small amount of resources here. At the UC, I had 75 sworn peace officers, 150 office employees, a SWAT and bomb team and several K-9s,” he said.
“Here we have nine sworn officers including myself and six non-sworn employees. But of course, I realize this is Calistoga, not UC Berkeley.”
Celaya said he is not looking to make any drastic changes in the department right now.
“I am too new to take on that challenge. I have to learn the culture and philosophy, how they do business here. I need to get the lay of the land before I began to think of making changes,” he said.
“With my new job, I am looking forward to getting involved with my bosses, (city council) the businesses and community. I plan to be visible and put myself out there, a luxury I didn’t have as police chief at UC Berkeley.”
Blessed by the Dalai Lama
Celaya had plenty of time in the spotlight during his job at Cal:
“I was the special events coordinator at the university, meaning I was in charge of public safety for the magnitude of international dignitaries and national public figures who visited the university," he said.
“I have been blessed by the Dalai Lama, escorted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, plus many other presidents from foreign countries.”
It wasn't an easy task.
“Providing security for people of this caliber was very intense and demanding. And I was so busy doing my job, I really didn’t get a chance to appreciate the magnitude of the the guests.”
Celaya is looking forward to a less hectic professional life.
“At the university there was so much going on every day. I was chief when the Occupy movement happened. There was always a protest of one kind or another,” he said.
“But the change is good. I have a chance to do more hand-ons work and interact with the people. I believe my many years of working with such a diverse population of people is a big plus for me.”
UC Berkeley Police Capt. Steve Roderick agrees.
“I worked with Mitch for about three years, most of the time while he was chief. We dealt with a diverse population of about 40,000 people daily,” Roderick said.
“I believe that is a strong asset Mitch can bring to his new job. He is a very good leader, who is dedicated not only to his staff but the community as well.”
Celaya and his wife Anita, a Contra Costa County court commissioner, have three sons, 22, 16 and 12 years old, and a 4-year-old daughter.
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