Our View: Loss of Ramirez a tragedy for an entire community
Ventura County’s business and civic leaders have endured the devastating Thomas Fire, the Borderline shootings and the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But nothing could prepare the county’s leadership for the sudden death of Carmen Ramirez, chair of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, who was struck by a pickup truck and killed in downtown Oxnard on the evening of Aug. 12.
Ramirez, 73, was leaving a community meeting and walking across a nearby street when she was hit. Nearly a week after her death, many were still processing the loss and pondering their own mortality.
“Carmen was a champion for people, the environment, animals … a true humanitarian and an inspiration. She would embrace the hard and was first in line to tackle the seemingly impossible,” Vanessa Bechtel, CEO of the Ventura County Community Foundation, said in an email to the Business Times.
Ramirez was an architect of the county’s response to COVID-19 and recently was co-chairing a county-wide early childhood education initiative, Bechtel said.
“Carmen always had a way of bringing so much kindness, compassion and love to the most difficult of situations,” Oxnard Harbor District Commissioner Celina Zacarias said in a statement to the Business Times.
“She brought people together,” said Harold Edwards, CEO of Limoneira and board chair for the Economic Development Collaborative, which serves Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. “Carmen’s premature departure leaves a hole in Oxnard, in Ventura County, and in society.”
Edwards had served as vice chair of the EDC board, working closely with Ramirez during her term as chair.
Dr. Gabino Aquirre, a former city councilman and a community activist in Santa Paula, called Ramirez an “activist, humanitarian and trailblazer.”
What made Ramirez’ death so hard to process was that she was, at 73, just reaching her potential in politics. She and Bechtel had recently been celebrating the unanimous appointment of Sevet Johnson as county executive officer, the first Black woman to hold the job.
Ramirez’s recent projects included a successful effort to head off a severe undercount in the 2020 census and launching a financial assistance program for thousands of small businesses impacted by the pandemic.
In a note to EDC board members, CEO Bruce Stenslie wrote that Ramirez was “a tireless champion and fighter for broadly shared opportunity, prosperity and the highest quality of life.”
In recent years, Ramirez had become involved in effort to improve the quality of technical education and workforce skills across Ventura County. She was also keenly aware of the need to make sure that economic development efforts afforded opportunity for advancement for all.
As a lawyer and community advocate and later an Oxnard City Council member, Ramirez fought successfully for a near-zero emissions battery backup solution to replace an aging gas-fired generator to provide backup power for the West Ventura County grid.
She was elected to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors in 2020, becoming the first Latina to serve on the board. She would have likely faced little opposition for re-election in 2024, and beyond that, she was in a position to write her own ticket.
Gov. Gavin Newsom will appoint a replacement to serve until the next election. In a world where no one is irreplaceable, Carmen Ramirez was as close as it gets.