New Dist.

Ventura County Supervisor Vianey Lopez. (Photo by Alex Wilson)

Carmen Ramirez was a mentor and role model to Vianey Lopez long before Lopez had any idea she would be suddenly and unexpectedly called to follow in the footsteps of the beloved Ventura County Supervisor.

They met before Ramirez was first elected to the Oxnard City Council in 2010, when Ramirez was working as a legal aid attorney and Lopez, 35, served on the staff of former Congressmember Lois Capps as a caseworker. Lopez told the Ventura County Reporter she and Ramirez worked together to help a family in need.

“She was assisting a family that had just gone through a very tragic situation. A death in a family, immigration related,” Lopez said. “That’s how I first connected, you know, just trying to help this family figure out this immigration issue. And she was very kind. That was my first impression.”

After Lopez decided to run for the Hueneme Elementary School District Board of Trustees in 2012, Ramirez took Lopez under her wing. Lopez said she was seeking the endorsement of the Ventura County Women’s Political Council, and it was one of the first times she addressed a large group about her views. Ramirez was there to offer encouragement, advice and connections.

“Here I am in this whole new world I don’t know. She stepped in and I feel like that’s where that mentorship began,” Lopez said.

An upbringing in Oxnard

Lopez learned about hard work and the value of education from a young age as the 10th of 11 children in her close-knit family, she said. Lopez was born in Mexico and was brought to Oxnard when she was 4 years old.

“My dad actually started coming to the U.S. under the Bracero program when he was 18 years old,” she explained. “He made his way working throughout the West Coast from northern Mexico, through Idaho, working in agriculture. And [Oxnard] also just happened to be the place where other family decided to set their roots. And so it made sense to be around family.”

The family first lived in La Colonia and later bought a house in South Oxnard, where Lopez still lives with her parents.

Lopez excelled at Hueneme High School and graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 2009 with a business degree focused on international business as well as travel and tourism. She spent a year working in tourism for Visit Oxnard before joining the office of Congressmember Capps. Lopez earned a master’s degree in public policy from Pepperdine University while working for Capps, but it wasn’t until after she graduated that she thought about running for office herself.

“It wasn’t until my master’s program that I saw the connection of policy at the local level,” she said. “And that’s how I began that path into a greater public service as a directly elected official.”

Lopez was elected to the Hueneme Elementary School District Board of Trustees in 2012, where she served for six years. She continued to work for Capps, and, after the congress member retired in 2017, Lopez joined the staff of State Assemblymember Monique Limón, who was later elected to the State Senate. In 2018, Lopez was elected to the Oxnard City Council, in the city’s first-ever district-based election to represent South Oxnard.

She needed to resign from her positions with Limón as well as her city council seat, however, following her Sept. 23, 2022, appointment to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors for District 5 by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Tragic circumstances lead to a new calling to serve

Lopez said she was on vacation in Cancun, Mexico, with her family when she heard the tragic news of Aug. 12 that her friend and mentor Carmen Ramirez had been hit by a truck while walking to a concert in a downtown Oxnard crosswalk, and later died at a hospital.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said, and held out hope that it wasn’t true.

It wasn’t long after the shock wore off that colleagues and community members started telling Lopez she was the perfect person to represent the fifth supervisorial district, and she decided to apply. It was with mixed feelings that she accepted the appointment.

“I was emotional for different reasons,” she recalled. “You know, for Carmen not being here and this is the reason why I get this appointment. Emotional for the transition out of two spaces, both the city council and my position with Senator Limón. And, you know, thinking about my family and all their hard work.”

Lopez was officially sworn into office on Oct. 3 and sat behind the dais in the county boardroom for the first time the following day.

Looking to the future

Now that she’s officially on the Board of Supervisors, Lopez said she hopes to follow the example Ramirez set.

“I see who I am and who Carmen was, is being compassionate of people and understanding, you know, that there’s differences between people and that a leader should not separate but should actually bridge communities and bridge different interests. And I think that’s something that is important to carry forward. And I feel that I have that in me,” she said.

Lopez is hoping to continue the work Ramirez was doing to help the community, ensuring social services are reaching the neediest and most disenfranchised people.

“I know Carmen was working towards establishing a more accessible center in the core of South Oxnard to reduce the barriers in access and transportation for people who need services to help them,” she said, adding that she’s also committed to honoring her predecessor’s work on protecting the environment. “There are issues along the coast that we have to ensure we’re addressing now with sea level rise and the impact of the Halaco Superfund site that needs to be cleaned up.”

As far as her bedrock political beliefs that will carry her forward on her public service mission, Lopez said it all goes back to family and community.

“I think my upbringing as an immigrant, as a Latina and the community that surrounded me growing up, having people who believed in me, who encouraged me through the education system as a young adult,” she said. “Having that, I think, sets a stronger foundation for a person to be able to succeed and do good things.”