Joni Gray, who had represented the Lompoc and Orcutt 4th District areas on the County Board of Supervisors, died suddenly on Wednesday, November 22. According to multiple media reports, Gray collapsed in court on Monday due to an aortic aneurysm and succumbed on Wednesday.
An estates and property law attorney, Gray was named to fill the 4th District seat in 1998 by Governor Pete Wilson when then-supervisor Tim Staffel was appointed to the Superior Court. She won election as supervisor four times. In describing her 2008 win, the Independent wrote, “The 4th District just loves Joni Gray.” Smart and personable, Gray was reluctant to tolerate those she considered fools, complaining frequently from the dais when discussions were prolonged. She was known for trying to hold a tight fiscal line when it came to county budgets, saying in 2010 that the process reminded her of a Ponzi scheme. Nonetheless, in 2008 she supported Measure D, which proposed a tax increase for freeway decongestion projects; the measure lost to voters. A quarter century after HIV/AIDS was first diagnosed, Gray voted in 2006 against a needle-exchange program to prevent blood-borne diseases, calling it “sickening” to appear to condone intravenous drug use.
Her last run for office was in 2012, when she lost to current supervisor Peter Adam by about 500 votes. That was also the year a scandal came to light regarding public housing in Lompoc, with some of the mud spattering onto Gray through her partnership in her husband’s firm, which represented the housing developer, and her staff member’s actions.
In a statement from the county, 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino praised Gray and her ties to her constituents: “Joni was a fascinating woman with North County roots that ran deeper than most,” he said. “She embraced the Western lifestyle and was a huge supporter of the Elks Rodeo and FFA. As a huge sports fan, she has been the backbone and driving influence behind the North County Athletic Roundtable that recognizes local high school athletes. I will miss her greatly and hope I can live up to her legacy.”
Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf, who walks a different philosophical line than Gray, said, “Joni was my colleague on the board for my first six years as supervisor. She was very welcoming when I joined the board in 2007, and later encouraged me to take her place on the retirement board where she’d served admirably for many years. She had a quick wit and was extremely smart.
“Joni was a very thoughtful and compassionate woman,” Wolf continued. “I recall fondly the times I would go to her home for her annual BBQ celebrating the beginning of the Santa Maria rodeo. Joni loved and worked very hard for her community, and her passing will be a tremendous loss to all who knew her. I know it will be for me.”