Gary Karner, a licensed landscape architect for over 60 years, long-time member of LOCAC, the Bay Foundation and involved in many Los Osos community projects and advisory groups in San Luis Obispo County, died at his waterfront home in Los Osos on November 23, 2020.
A passionate, studied man known to be gracious and kind, he worked quietly, mostly in the background, to help San Luis Obispo county be all it could be. He was a visionary who cared deeply about the quality of life and sense of place. He was a loving husband, father and a professor whose students say he was greatly admired for his teaching and critical abilities as well as his multidisciplinary approach to project design and risk management. His list of things still left to do was impressive, he wasn’t done.
Bruce Gibson described Gary best by saying he was a “man of quiet dignity and intelligence. He wasn’t going to be the person who spoke first, or longest, or most loudly, but what he had to say revealed a clear understanding of whatever situation was at hand, no matter how complex or controversial.” When he spoke, people listened.
People admired Gary because of his clear idea of how the future should look and his strategies on how to get there. He was known for breaking away from what was expected. He looked for new ways of solving problems. He wasn’t afraid to ask “what if,” and instilled a love for that question in those around him. He was courageously tough. He wasn’t afraid of failure, only of not trying.
He was resilient and resolute and would never give up, even when things got difficult. His persistency often paid off and his legacy will endure, standing the test of time. He was inherently positive and saw the future as bright and problems as temporary. Those around him drew strength from his steadfast optimism. He drew people toward him and brought out their best qualities.
Gary was born February 22, 1936 in Los Angeles, California at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital to loving parents, Dr. Earl and Edith Karner, and his childhood was idyllic. He lived, for a while during WWII, on a ranch in Indian Valley, north of Bradley, California. Then the family moved to China Lake Naval Weapons Station, adjacent to Ridgecrest, California in 1946, where he went to grammar school and high-school at Burroughs High School, graduating in 1953. He attended Pomona College in Pomona, California, studying various disciplines. He became captivated with the land and land use and design. He transferred to UC Berkeley, and obtained a Bachelor of Science in landscape architecture, in 1958.
He married Judith Ann Loewy in 1959 and moved to Watertown, Massachusetts to attend the Harvard Graduate School of Design, graduating in 1961 with a master’s in landscape architecture. They had three sons: David Scott Karner, Mark Christopher Karner, and Daniel Brook Karner. Gary and Judy divorced in 1978.
After graduating from Harvard, Gary worked as associate executive director with Sasaki, Dawson, DeMay Associates in Watertown, Massachusetts, later to be known as Sasaki, Walker and Associates (SWA). He returned to the West Coast in 1966, joining Peter Walker (famous for his 911 Memorial in NYC) at SWA in San Francisco. In 1969 he became a principal in SWA. In 1972, SWA became the SWA Group and Gary was a co-managing principal in the SWA Group, Sausalito office until 1976.
In 1976, he resigned from the SWA Group and moved to San Luis Obispo and entered real estate brokerage as president of Central Coast Investments, Inc., specializing in tax-deferred IRS Code 1031 exchanges of real properties and serving as vice-president of the National Council of Exchangors in 1980.
In 1980, he married Pandora Nash and they returned to Marin County, California where Gary rejoined SWA Group, Sausalito to co-manage that office until 1987 when his son, Mark, died from Hodgkins Disease. Gary left SWA Group in 1987 to join the faculty of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he taught from 1987 to 2000 as a lecturer and as associate department head from 1989-1999. During that time, he authored “Contracting Design Services” a much-needed professional resource published by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).
Working from his Los Osos home, in 1987 Gary became a consulting principal with SWA Group, specializing in contract review and risk management for their seven offices located in California, Texas, New York and Shanghai.
He continued in that role with SWA until 2017.
Gary was a life-long member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and a member in the Northern California and Southern California Chapters. He was elected to Fellow of the Society in 1991, the fellowship being awarded for executed projects and professional writing. Gary served on a number of national and California committees of the ASLA and served as chair and president on several.
Through direct involvement with a wide range of design work, he developed special expertise in innovative managerial and professional practices for successful operation of design firms. He brought that expertise to Cal Poly and taught landscape architecture at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo from 1987-2000.
Gary was honored with numerous awards during his career including the Distinguished Service Award and the Certificate of Merit for Excellence in the Study of Landscape Architecture, from the ASLA. A number of his projects received awards including Weyerhaeuser Company Corporate Headquarters, in
Tacoma, Washington; the Stanford Graduate Student Housing project in Palo Alto, California; Hewlett Packard Facility, Rohnert Park, California and MacArthur Court, in Irving, California. Some of his personal favorite projects include the Concord Pavilion, Concord, California; the IBM Almaden Research
Laboratory, San Jose; Cosumnes River College, Sacramento, California; Contemporary Hotel, Walt Disney World, Florida; and San Jose State University’s Tower Hall Court, Business Building and major malls, San Jose, California.
Putting his expertise to work locally he volunteered and created the site analysis for three potential sites for the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden; site analysis for Santa Margarita Lake and Nipomo Regional parks; and the site analysis for a portion of the Cal Poly campus for a sustainable community on campus and reclamation of Brizzolari Creek and student housing. He worked with a team to create a master plan for Sinsheimer Park and for the Almaden Winery Historic Park in San Jose. He supervised and worked with a group of upper division landscape architect students on the environmental constraints analysis for the West Ranch of the the East/West Ranch in Cambria.
Locally he was the 1999 Los Osos Co-Citizen of the Year with Pandora Nash-Karner; Coordinator for the Solution Group (looking for an environmentally-friendly, less expensive wastewater design solution) and developed the Los
Osos Comprehensive Resource Management Plan in 1997; served as a Director for the Bay Foundation of Morro Bay from 1995-2013; served as a member of the Los Osos Community Advisory Council, 1992-2004 and served as chair from 1993-1995. There he was instrumental in developing the Los Osos Vision Statement which is still in use today, and helped to write the original Los Osos Community Plan for land use and transportation in Los Osos. This document, now available for public review, determines how the community will grow and develop over the next 20 years and focuses on protecting resources and providing adequate infrastructure.
After retiring from Cal Poly in 2000, he focused his attention on a new business in investing family resources in the stock market and developed his own method of “beating the market” (beating the S&P 500) each year in which he was successful over many years.
Gary leaves his loving wife, Pandora, of 40 years and sons David Scott Karner, Daniel B. Karner Karner, and Eriel Shayne Nash, and grandchildren Claire, Calvin and Camille Karner, and his beloved yellow lab, “Keesha.”
His last words were: “I’ve tried in this life to keep my shit in one neat pile and not step in it too often.”