Pictured: Ginger Gherardi. 

by Kimberly Rivers

If you’ve ridden, walked, ran or drove somewhere in Ventura County, then chances are you’ve traveled on a project that Ginger Gherardi had a hand in getting built. 

Gherardi, a resident of Santa Paula, was the first executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC) and worked at the agency for 17 years. Prior to that she served on the Simi Valley Planning Commission and Simi Valley City Council, was secretary for VCTC and worked for the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission. Later, after retirement, she was elected to the Santa Paula City Council.

She’s not done yet. During the month of October, she’s one of the organizers and leaders of the Pumpkin Patch, held now at Limoneira Ranch, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Santa Paula. 

“I’m exhausted! We had 3,000 people this weekend,” she said with a chuckle. The annual event brings in thousands of dollars that Rotary distributes to local nonprofit organizations and schools. 

Her other current project (remember, she’s retired) is rooted in a long-term vision to ensure the community has a well-maintained park. “I’ve created a nonprofit foundation to basically raise money to help maintain the new 37-acre park at Limoneira.” 

The community park is planned as part of a new housing development in Santa Paula. “People will be able to buy a brick, or pay a large amount of money to have a baseball diamond named for them. All the money will be invested.” The income from that investment will be used to “defray some of the city’s maintenance” costs. “That’s the newest little thing I’m playing with.”

Parent, educator, city councilmember, activist

Gherardi’s impact has been no little thing. 

Her civic engagement started with picketing in Simi Valley against a shopping center slated for land across from the home she and her family had just bought. 

“That was how things started. We picketed. My youngest son was in a stroller, he was a couple months old. They didn’t sell any houses for two days.” 

Then the city incorporated, the election occurred and when the new city was putting together a planning commission, her husband at the time suggested she should apply for the commission, to ensure that the shopping center wouldn’t get built. Five of the members were political appointees, two were selected from the public. She applied and was appointed to the planning commission in 1969. She was elected to the city council in 1972.

“It was my 28th birthday,” Gherardi recalled.

“My background was in art and design, I knew how to read the plot plans” being reviewed by the planning commission. She was teaching part time at California State University (what would later become the Northridge campus). Her children were two and four. Eventually she was teaching at Moorpark College, then full time at Moorpark High School. 

Making moves in transportation

After her time on the Simi City Council, their family moved back to the East Coast for a spell. They returned to California “because the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission made me an offer to come run their highway program.” Which she did for four years. 

She explained that most elected officials go to work in public agencies in government relations or something similar. “I took a technical job, running technical programs, transportation development.”  In a position with the Southern California Association of Government in transportation, she became an expert in the state’s Transportation Development Act. If you wanted a road built, a bridge put in, a new bike path or any other transportation project funded, she was the go-to person. 

“I did a lot of the stuff that you see in L.A. now . . . the carpool lane, I had a hand in naming and creating Smart Streets.” 

Her department was responsible for a lot of the technology used in transportation in the region. Examples included determining where to move traffic lights to improve traffic flow, the call box system with a hearing device, and contactless or “tap” bus passes. She was particularly adept at identifying and securing the funding sources for projects. 

Around 2000, Ventura County was forming its own transportation commission. Prior to that, all the money coming into the county for transportation was being funneled through the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), which meant the county was “losing money right and left, we couldn’t get anything built.” VCTC was formed and Gherardi was hired as its first director. 

“That was an interesting experience, starting a new agency when you don’t even have a pencil.” 

During her tenure, she started the Vista Bus System and Metrolink. 

“This is a true story,” she related. “The joint power authority was signed in my office. All the other counties were fighting over how many votes they’d get [to govern Metrolink.] I looked at all these guys and told them, ‘I’ll cause more trouble with one vote than you can with three.’” She said it was never a problem having just one vote for Ventura County. 

Rincon Bike Trail, from Carpinteria State Beach to Ventura. Photo courtesy of Ventura County Transportation Commission.

“The last project that I did, most people don’t know, is I got the funding for the bike lane on the 101 between Santa Barbara and Ventura. It was built after I retired.” She secured the funding and was overseeing the negotiations between the two counties. 

“It takes a long time to build transportation projects,” and the process involves a “strange funding cycle.” She oversaw multimillion dollar budgets and projects. 

“As executive director of the commission [VCTC], I brought in more money for this county and got more built than you can imagine, mega millions of dollars.” 

Projects are still being built that she had a hand in planning, and for which she secured funding.  

Active retirement

That knowledge continues to be put to work, even though Gherardi is retired. Friends began asking her to run for Santa Paula City Council. She was elected in 2014 and was a part of the trifecta team, with Marcia Edward and Rob Corley, that unified the school district in Santa Paula. While on the council she helped ensure that the city fire department, which at the time was “understaffed and underfunded,” was annexed and became part of the Ventura County Fire Department. She also helped obtain the funding for the building of the Santa Paula Art Museum, and she brought the Agriculture Museum with the Museum of Ventura County to Santa Paula. 

Gherardi said she tries to enjoy doing less. She reads five books a week, and gets involved with various “hot button issues” in the community “as a private citizen. There have been issues here and there I’ve taken a position on, I try to stay low key . . . Well, I’m not bored. I have got lots of things I still want to do.”