Community activist Carla Bard, a pioneer of the environmental movement in Ventura County and a statewide expert on water issues, was killed over the weekend when her car slid in a driving rain and plunged down a steep embankment near Paso Robles.
Bard, 69, died Saturday morning while driving alone on U.S. Highway 101 to a meeting of a conservation league in San Francisco.
The chairwoman of the state Water Resources Control Board under Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., Bard was remembered Sunday for nearly five decades of community activism in Ventura County.
"She was at the apex of the environmental movement here, and her loss is beyond calculation," said Neil A. Moyer, president of the Environmental Coalition of Ventura County. "She was involved for so long that her memory of why and how things happened was supremely better than the bureaucrats'."
Cultured and always elegantly dressed--even genteel in manner--the English-born Bard labored for decades as a volunteer on social issues locally and still worked full time as an analyst at the Environmental Defense Center's office in Ventura.
"It's a terrible shock," said her husband, Archie Bard of Ojai. They married in 1948 while both were students at UC Berkeley. "She was not any garden-variety person."
Even as his wife quietly celebrated her 69th birthday last week, she was planning to continue the tireless routine that had marked her adult life, Archie Bard said.
"She was just gearing up to continue everything that she had been doing," he said. "Wherever there was a problem that needed fixing, whether environmental or otherwise, she had the energy and the perspective to attack it. She may have stepped on people's toes, but a lot of those toes needed to be stepped on."
In recent months, for example, Carla Bard had opposed deeper excavations of Saticoy and El Rio gravel pits and argued successfully against a housing project that would have covered 815 acres of farmland on the Oxnard Plain.
Supervisor John K. Flynn, who appointed Bard as the county's first woman planning commissioner in 1973, opposed her on the gravel pit issue but said that Ventura County has lost a powerful champion for good.
"She was one of our top community activists," Flynn said. "Her whole life was dedicated, not only to environmental issues, but to health issues and poor people. She was a leader. When Carla Bard spoke, people listened."
Early this year, when many of her contemporaries were planning how to make retirement meaningful, Bard went to work for the Environmental Defense Center's new Ventura County office.
She arrived directly from a year and a half as an environmental analyst at Patagonia Inc., a Ventura-based outdoor clothing company that contributes to environmental organizations--including $100,000 to open the new EDC office.
"I've always been blessed with marvelous health and a great deal of energy," Bard said in a January interview.
"Besides, I've never found that retired people were particularly fulfilled," she added, "and I can't imagine living without doing something interesting."
John Buse, a staff attorney with the EDC, said Sunday that the organization considered it a coup when Bard signed on.
"To me, Carla was really our eyes, our radar in Ventura County," Buse said. "It's really going to be difficult to measure that loss. It's immeasurable."
Bard moved to Somis in 1950 with her husband, who is the grandson of Ventura County pioneer farmer and U.S. Sen. Thomas Bard.
Archie ran the Bard family ranching company and Carla delivered four children in five years.
"I joined the League of Women Voters to keep my brain from turning to mush," she recalled this year. "It did."
In 1953, she volunteered at the Children's Home Society, which arranged for the adoptions of orphans.
In the following years, she volunteered on committees that studied the loss of farmland to development and scrutinized the local criminal justice system. She was the only woman on the 55-person criminal justice committee.
She also worked as an unpaid investigator for a poverty law office in Oxnard's La Colonia barrio for a year in the early 1960s. And she helped implement President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society agenda by serving on the local Community Action Commission that distributed the flood of new federal dollars.
She then served on a board that advised federal officials on how many local hospitals should be built. And in 1970 she was appointed to the Ventura County Grand Jury.
Flynn tapped Bard for the Planning Commission three years later.
"I said I was appointed to sit by the door," she said. "because women and minorities were being hired and appointed and placed by the door so everybody could see that the agency had one. It was a great advantage for me."
In 1976, after three years as a planner, she took her knowledge of water issues to the state Regional Water Quality Control Board in Los Angeles, an agency that forces polluters to clean up their acts.
By 1979, she had distinguished herself as chairwoman of the regional board and Edmund Brown appointed her to head the state Water Resources Control Board.
"I got to learn a whole lot about water all over the state," she said. "Then I got dumped by Jerry Brown."
Actually, Brown did not reappoint her when her term expired in 1982 because she would not have been confirmed by the Legislature. "I was no longer confirmable because of my strong position on pesticide-control and water-quality issues," she said.
So she came home to Ojai.
By then considered a statewide authority on water, Bard continued to champion the cause of clean water, wetlands preservation and free-flowing rivers, testifying at hearings and writing position papers on myriad issues.
For years she served on the board of the Bay Institute of San Francisco, which works to clean up pollution in the bay.
"She was a great lady. She was a determined woman, one of the really great women of our time," Bay Institute founder William Daveron said Sunday. "She was like a retired movie actress. Whenever she walked into a room, she swept into it."
Bard also helped found the Ojai Land Conservancy, which works to preserve open space in the Ojai Valley, and was still a director of the Planning and Conservation League, a statewide group that lobbies in Sacramento on environmental issues.
On Saturday, she was on her way to a board meeting for that group when she was killed.
Bard got an early start on the trip by driving to her daughter Victoria's house in Santa Maria on Friday night.
She left Santa Maria early Saturday during a driving rainstorm, and had driven about 60 miles when she lost control of her car about 9:45 a.m., authorities said.
Her car slid on the rain-soaked highway and flipped over an asphalt berm lining the center median. The car tumbled down a steep, 20-foot embankment in the center of the highway, ending up on its roof, the California Highway Patrol reported.
No other cars were involved in the accident. A physician pulled over to help, but Bard was dead when he found her, the CHP reported.
Archie Bard learned of the accident Saturday afternoon. He last saw his wife on Friday, as she was packing files for her meeting into her car.
Bard said his wife seemed to gain more and more energy as she grew older. She grew even more outspoken on certain issues, he said.
"The last five years were the ones that she really took off," he said.
In addition to her husband, Bard is survived by children Gregory Bard of Santa Rosa; Victoria Fidel of Santa Maria; Tom Bard of Rio de Janeiro; and Jennifer Lipanovich of Santa Rosa; and seven grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending.