Water

San Jose lawmakers oppose water board’s ballot measure

San Jose city councillor is calling on the local water board to take costly and “misleading” measures in front of voters.

Councilman Matt Mahan plans to introduce a resolution in city council next week opposing Valley Water’s ballot measure that would allow members to serve four consecutive years instead of three.

Mahan told San Jose Focus that the language of the ballot measure was misleading and that the cost of the ballot measure would be a waste of millions of taxpayer dollars.

“It’s not going to do anything to solve the real problem we’re facing with water — which is that we’re in the midst of the worst drought in California history,” Mahan said.

Valley Water estimates it would cost about $3.2 million to put the measure on the ballot — another concern for Mahan, who is running for mayor on a platform that emphasizes cuts to wasteful government spending. He noted that residents in his area are so concerned about water bills that his office has set up a community task force to address the issue. Funding for the ballot measure could be used to help hundreds of taxpayers, he said.

“That’s well over 1,000 lawns converted to drought-tolerant plants,” Mahan said. “Based on the average amount of San Jose’s water bill debt, 6,000 households could receive debt relief.”

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered water agencies across the state to implement stricter water conservation rules as the state enters another year of severe drought. Water conservation has been a serious issue in San Jose, where officials cut residents’ water consumption by 15 percent last year.

Valley Water’s board voted 4-3 last month to approve the measure, putting it on the June 7 primary ballot. According to its proponents, the measure will help the board retain experienced members and provide greater continuity of vision for long-term projects. The district oversees Santa Clara County’s dams, reservoirs and water treatment plants.

Valley Water CEO Rick Callender said in a statement that the nearly century-old agency was facing unprecedented challenges to the region’s water supply, including drought, rising sea levels and the loss of Sierra snow.

He said directors believed allowing voters to extend their terms would give the board consistent leadership in overseeing complex projects and potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars in changes and delays.

Some members were skeptical of the idea’s potential benefits. At the February meeting, director Linda LeZotte said the ballot measure language might be legally sound, but it was also “intellectually dishonest” because it contained elements that could make Voters think they voted to approve language limiting term limits. According to Callender, Valley Water began using the same language as the supervisory board vote measure, increasing its term limit from two to three in 1998.

District 10 resident Martin Rauchwerk, a member of the Mahan Community Task Force, said he was uncomfortable with Valley Water board members wanting to extend term limits, noting that the current board’s track record leaves much to be desired.

“We need fresh minds to guide us,” he told San José Spotlight. “Having old people guide us through these old programs that don’t work, or that doesn’t seem to work, seems like a mistake to me.”

Valley Water superintendent Richard Santos voted for the measure, telling San José Spotlight Mahan, a new MP, with no experience. Voters should decide how long they want board members to serve at Valley Water, and that experience should be a factor in that decision, he said.

“There are a lot of experienced people on the board — do you want to take advantage or not?” Santos said, noting that the county is in the midst of a severe water crisis. “Why restrict?”

Contact Eli Wolfe [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: Rick Callender, CEO of Valley Water, serves on the board of directors of San José Spotlight.

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