She has held similar jobs for 18 years in San Diego, the last five at the beach. Now, she supervises the other four rangers.
She swings by the Fiesta Island Youth Aquatic Camp, which the rangers manage and maintain.
“My mom always said, ‘Don’t look for trouble,’ but I’m always looking for trouble,” Gerbac said. “My job is looking for trouble.”
Her mom also warned her not to talk to strangers, but that’s the biggest part of her job. Fortunately, Gerbac said, she likes people.
Being a park ranger, she explained, “is a little bit of everything.” Mostly, she educates park visitors about the rules, including why they’re important.
Rangers also are responsible for the ecology of the area, including the sites reserved for the endangered California least tern.
Administrative duties, including ensuring that people have permits for big parties, blowup children’s “jumpies” and sound systems, is another duty.
Each park ranger attempts to circle the entire the park daily in trucks and on bicycles and quadrunners. The land area accounts for about half the total park and is comprised of 28 individual parks, including 27 miles of shoreline.
Gerbac admits it’s a tough order for the small staff.
“That’s why so many people don’t even know about us,” she said.
She said the most common park violation involves dogs on or off-leash — not alcohol. Not surprisingly, she said, there’s a noticeable decrease in alcohol consumption — and litter — since the beach and public park alcohol ban a few years ago.
“I could sit here all day and deal with the dogs,” she said, walking up to one owner to explain that even leashed dogs are not permitted in the park during certain hours. Dogs are never allowed to be off-leash except on Fiesta Island.
This day, the owner is cooperative, and Gerbac lets him off with a verbal warning, making sure he’s headed for his car. For dog owners who give her attitude or are belligerent, she writes citations, which can set offenders back several hundred dollars, depending on the judge.
There are reasons for the prohibitions, she said.
“There are so many conflicts with the various park users,” Gerbac said. “The laws are a way of striking a balance. For example, not everyone is a responsible dog owner; not everyone picks up after their dogs and the feces can end up in the bay.”
She also points out that older folks, especially those on walkers, may not be safe around dogs.
Although she must enforce the law, Gerbac said she is a dog lover with three of her own. And even when she’s “educating” owners, she can’t resist bending down to pet their dogs.
As for a ban against burning pallets, Gerback said the nails can easily end up in the sand and, from there, in someone’s foot.
Balloons are prohibited because when they pop or are left behind, they can choke the birds, said Gerbac. While a preacher is busy sharing his message at the shoreline, the ranger whispers to a parishioner that the balloons need to go.
There’s also a good reason for prohibition against washing vehicles.
“People don’t think for a minute about waxing or changing the oil,” Gerbac said. “But when they hit the ground, it’s a matter of feet to the bay.”
Unfortunately, many people don’t read the posted regulations, she said. She approaches a car collectors’ group and points out that their club banner cannot be tied to a tree. Nothing can.
For those who break the rules, the rangers have limited arrest powers.
“We need to see the crime being committed,” she said.
When a land-based problem is out the rangers’ jurisdiction, they contact police. For offenses or problems on the water, they contact the lifeguards.
The rangers do have the ability to write misdemeanor and parking citations and send offenders to the Beach Area Community Court and community service.
In addition to hundreds of verbal and written warnings, the rangers (with one out on maternity leave) have issued 69 citations for dogs, alcohol, glass, smoking and other violations, plus 495 parking citations over the last six months. The numbers are relatively low, Gerbac said, because the rangers believe education is more important than punishment.
She points out that there’s no quota on issuing permits.
“There’s no toaster or free flights at the end of the day,” said Gerbac.
On this day, she also approaches a man who has cordoned off an area for an upcoming party. She explains he can’t use tape, but only chairs at the corners. The bottom line is that space is available on a first-come basis and no one can call dibs on it.
After what appears to be a frustrating day at the beach, Gerbac said, “This was pretty much a summer weekend day in the park. My favorite part is being outside and talking to people, problem-solving. I like calming people down and getting them to come around and see our point.”