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Irvine Profile - Sherry Richardson


Q&A: Sherry Richardson - GIS Mapping Specialist


 Sherry Richardson

For the month of November, long-time City employee, Sherry Richardson, GIS Mapping Specialist, shares her Irvine story.

Q:  When did you start working for the City of Irvine and in what capacity?

A: Working at the City of Dallas in the sixties and seventies, I remember we had a copy of the Irvine General Plan in our planning library and thinking what a neat place it must be.  Little did I know that before the end of the decade, I would be leaving friends, family and my position as the very first female draftsperson at the City of Dallas, to live and work in Irvine. 

I started working for the City’s Community Development Department May 5, 1980 as an engineering technician. As a draftsperson, one of my duties was to update the Irvine city maps. When I started there were a few small tract maps and one large map of the City that was out-of-date. Though my work station has moved from building to building and through a variety of cubicles over the years, I have done the same type of work all along – primarily mapping and street name approval and address assignment.  With the explosive growth the City has experienced – that’s a lot of maps. 

Q: How long have you been an Irvine resident?

A: My husband Jerry, then 13-year old daughter Katrina, and I moved into our Northwood home in August 1979 when my husband accepted a promotion that required our moving to southern California. We spent days looking at various homes and areas of Orange County but fell in love with Irvine.  Moving from Texas to earthquake territory was a major concern to me.

Q:  What do you like best about living in Irvine?

A: Where to begin?  A few things at the top of my mind are excellent schools, parks, green areas and market variety.  It is a wonderful place to learn about other cultures and it has been ranked as America’s Safest City seven years running.  I also like the unique names for Irvine venues.  A few of my favorites are Central Bark, The Great Park, Irvine Global Village Festival and ICTV.

On a more personal level, I love the smell of the Eucalyptus trees in the park in front of our house and in particular the one my grandchildren and I have dubbed the Old Man Hand Tree.  It is so named because that’s exactly what it looks like.  We also enjoy feeding the hummingbirds outside our kitchen window.  Our favorite bird, the General, keeps all the others in line and makes sure to buzz us repeatedly when he’s concerned his food source is becoming dangerously low.

Also, driving through Irvine on the major thoroughfares is another experience I enjoy.  Each major street has its own character. I like Alton in the late fall when leaves are changing colors. Others favorites are Culver and Jeffrey going under the railroad tracks as the trains are rolling by above. On Irvine Center you can zip right through the City with few traffic signals until you get to the Spectrum area – following posted speed limits of course. They all have beautiful landscaping and whichever one I happen to be on at that moment is my favorite.

Q:  Do you see any similarities to Irvine then and Irvine now?

A: Many of the streets are the same but they look significantly different than they did in 1979.  Most of the orange groves have yielded to development but we still have most of the Eucalyptus trees that serve as reminders of how things once were.  The streets of the 1980s are still here but they are far from the two lane country roads dotted with an occasional stop sign that they once were.

Other similarities are the energy levels, creativity and dedication of City staff member throughout every department. It has always amazed me how the City repeatedly manages to select such top notch employees.

Even though the City family has grown significantly since I began, we all have a common bond of service to our community and, for us old timers, other shared experiences over the years – such as 9/11, the Gulf War, and the Los Angeles Riots.  As City employees we experience these types of events from the perspective of both personal impact and how, as a City government, we prepare for and respond to major events or changes. 

I love driving through the City and spotting other City or police vehicles and knowing we are all a part of the big City family. Knowing if I needed help I could go to them and we would connect. I can’t imagine that will ever change.

Q: What is the biggest change you have seen in Irvine?

A: The biggest change is watching Irvine’s fast pace growth. While communities around the country have suffered with down turns in the economy, Irvine has managed to carve out all types of development at a rapid pace.  One I’m really excited about is the conversion of El Toro Marine Base to the Orange County Great Park.  New Yorkers like to brag about their Central Park but once complete, I’m confident the biggest bragging rights will go to our great Great Park. 

When I started working on maps in the sixties they were drawn using pens and straight edges.  If you wanted copies you would have to send them out to a printer.  In terms of where we are with maps today compared to 1980, what used to be a rare commodity that could take hours or days to produce, has been cut to only a few minutes with new electronic plotting technology.

Today, not only are maps on people’s walls – they are literally everywhere. Behind every Google Map, MapQuest, Garmin, Tom Tom, iPad and smart phone - some place, somewhere, someone like those of us in GIS, began that process.  And while we can’t be responsible for inaccurate directions from any of those sources, we do absolutely stand behind the accuracy of our mapping content.

Currently our GIS section has a robust map library with well over 200 layers and a wealth of accompanying data that we use to create custom maps.  The layers and data can then be manipulated and used as visual aid or to analyze any given scenario.  The move to computer mapping concerned me because the word technology made me feel inadequate. Here I am 31 years later holding my own in the City’s GIS Computerized Mapping section and loving it.

It may be hard for some to imagine, but one change I’m grateful for is that employees are no longer allowed to smoke at their desks as they were when I began.  

Q: As a long time Irvine resident and employee, what does the 40th Anniversary mean to you?

A: It is an opportunity to reflect, both personally and professionally, and see all that has been accomplished and look to the future. 

Q: Any final thoughts for us?

A: My favorite thing about living and working in Irvine isn’t things, but people.  I have had the privilege of working with some of the smartest and nicest people you could ever meet for nearly half of my life. That may sound corny but that’s okay.  It’s the truth.  My family has made fun of me for years for rarely failing to tune in for a City Council meeting.  Yes, I’m just that into it.  I’m proud to live and work in Irvine.  It has been, and continues to be an amazing journey for me.

Are you a multi-generational Irvine resident? Tell us your story by writing to insideirvine@cityofirvine.org.

Past Profiles

Jean Aldrich
Mary Ann Gaido
Homer Guimond
The Russell and Peggy Frank Family
Debbie Brunn
Victoria Jimenez
Tina Williams
Sean Joyce
Larry Larsen
Wendy Shields
Larry LeVoir
Lon Hall
Winnie Todd