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The problems in the Santa Clara Valley water district keep getting worse.
Projects over budget. The largest reservoir in the district has emptied due to earthquake risk. About $100 million in flood damage due to failed preparations for heavy rains. Delay in water conservation measures in the midst of drought.
Meanwhile, district managers sign off on a misguided tunneling project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. They successfully fooled voters with a dishonest ballot measure extending term limits. And a director now up for re-election is facing allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation of staff.
Sufficient. It’s time to change direction.
Four of the seven board seats are in place this year. Unfortunately, incumbent John Verela is running unopposed in District 1. Former Sen. Jim Beall has no opposition in District 4, where he will replace outgoing director Linda LeZotte.
In the two contested races on the Nov. 8 ballot, voters are expected to oust Tony Estremera in District 6 and Gary Kremen, the principal who faces allegations of sexual harassment and bullying, in District 7. We recommend the newcomers Chuck Cantrell in the former race and Rebecca Eisenberg in the latter.
A troubled file
Founded in 1929, Valley Water has a budget of $917 million to provide safe, clean water to 2 million people. It is also responsible for flood protection and management of county waterways.
In 2017, the district, aware of the debris and sediment blocking Coyote Creek, took little action to prevent or reduce the risk of flooding. Heavy rains helped flood Coyote Creek in south San Jose, forcing 14,000 people to evacuate and causing approximately $100 million in damage.
In 2019, the board voted in favor of the $19 billion Delta Tunnels project. This despite the fact that it would not add a drop to California’s water supply and was never calculated.
In 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates dams, ordered Valley Water to completely drain Santa Clara County’s largest reservoir behind Anderson Dam due to earthquake risk. The council’s failure to act sooner endangers the valley’s water supply during one of California’s worst droughts. The reservoir won’t be available to store water until at least 2030. And the cost of the project has doubled to $1.2 billion.
Meanwhile, over-budget and delayed projects have contributed to the district’s need to purchase water from Sacramento Valley farmers at high prices. And the board is badly divided, including the selection as CEO of Rick Callender.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the self-serving ballot measure, backed by Estremera, Kremen, Verela and Richard Santos, to extend their terms for another four years. The wording of Measure A, which cost $3.2 million to put on the ballot, implied it was more restrictive than what was already in place. The opposite was true.
Estremera was one of the main beneficiaries of the term extension. He served twice on the board, totaling 26 years. His last three-term run made him the main beneficiary of Measure A. Voters should no longer be fooled. They should oust Estremera.
Especially when they have such a great replacement option. Cantrell is director of development for the San Jose Conservation Corps, commissioner of planning for San Jose, and former board member of Green Foothills, the nonprofit organization working to protect open spaces in Santa Clara and Santa Clara counties. of San Mateo.
His experience as an economist and his understanding of financial matters would be a welcome addition to the board. He opposes Governor Gavin Newsom’s Delta Tunnel project and the Pacheco Dam project, which doubled in price to $2.5 billion last year. He is a strong advocate for greater board transparency.
The third candidate, Santa Clara County Airport Land Use Commissioner Diego Barragan, wants to keep water rates manageable and reduce illegal dumping in county waterways. But he lacks Cantrell’s knowledge of district finances.
Eisenberg is a Palo Alto tech lawyer with a Harvard law degree and a strong commitment to environmental issues. She opposes the Delta Tunnel and Pacheco Dam projects, and advocates greatly scaling up the district’s water recycling efforts.
We didn’t back Eisenberg when she ran for Palo Alto City Council in 2020 against a strong field of candidates. But she’s a good fit for the Valley Water board and would be a refreshing replacement for Kremen.
Kremen, who was finishing his second term, supported Measure A’s misleading term limit extension and would benefit if he won this year. But his problems go much deeper than that.
The sexual harassment allegations, which he denied, led him in February to withdraw his candidacy for county assessor. He then voluntarily resigned as chairman of the Water District Council for six months and asked the Water District Council to investigate whether he had sexually harassed anyone there. The council has widened the investigation, which is ongoing, to also include accusations that he intimidated staff members.
In March, the Sierra Club complained in a letter to the board about Kremen’s “disrespectful treatment” of conservationists. The letter accused him of “repeatedly making negative comments in response to our participation” in the meetings and “making personal attacks” that made defenders reluctant to comment at the meetings.
It’s another example of why Valley Water needs new leadership as it faces some of its greatest challenges since its founding nearly a century ago. Voters should elect Cantrell and Eisenberg.