Saturday, April 18, 2009

Letter to Senator Joe Simitian re Electing Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors

Please read the letter and if you agree,
please email Senator Simitian through this link:

Senator Joseph Simitian
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Senator Simitian:

Recently, the Board of the Santa Clara Valley Water District has asked Assemblyman Joe Coto to carry a bill through the State legislature to amend the District Act as it pertains to electing the Board of Directors as representatives of our community. I respectfully request that you consider introducing a separate bill in the Senate or request substantial amendment of Mr. Coto’s bill. The local delegation of state legislators from Santa Cara County should seize this opportunity to apply the democratic process to management and protection of our local watersheds.

For the past forty years, the Water District board of directors has had five elected directors and two directors appointed by the Board of Supervisors, coupled with budget approval by the BOS, after the District Board review and adoption. This system had a severely distracted Board of Supervisors giving approval to a budget they hardly ever glanced at, let alone vetted for policy compliance and economic or environmental prudence. I called this system the Dilution of Democracy, which involved the appointment of a supervisor's “friend” to either of the two at-large seats on the Water Board to sit as full voting members with the five elected directors.

These appointments were made by alternating north /south appointments between the members of the Board of Supervisors. The boundaries for the residence requirement for the South County appointed seat had about 5-10% of the county’s population while the other seat included the remainder of the County, but actually excluded some cities with Hetch Hetchy contracts. Last year the County finally relinquished this hold on the Water District and the District Act was amended in Sacramento to remove the two appointments and eliminate the BOS budget approval requirement.

It is these two vestiges of old political inertia, scheduled to end on Dec 31, 2009, that has the District Board expressing their desire to keep the number of Board members at seven, using new seven yet-to-be-gerrymandered districts of equal numbers of eligible voters. I believe we deserve and can create a political body that has more practicality than simply preserving the number seven for the available seats on the board of directors.

I hope you will agree that the Water District’s Board, first of all, should represent the very nature of the flow of water, and should be organized by watershed. This is not a new idea for the Water District. When I was first elected to the Board in 1972, there were five separate taxing zones in place, representing the major watersheds in the county: East (Coyote, Silver-Thompson, Penetencia Creeks), Central (Guadalupe/Los Gatos/Alamitos), North Central (Calabasas, San Tomas, Saratoga) Northwest (Baron, Matadero, Stevens & San Francisquito) and South (Uvas/Llagas/Pajaro).

In order to establish the basis for equal representation, each of these watersheds would have to again become separate taxing entities for which watershed activities could be assessed per watershed and not subsidized by other zones with a “revenue surplus.”

The water supply function of the Santa Clara Valley Water District is basically run as a business for the benefit of the entire county. Other water supply wholesalers also operate within the county borders, namely San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and four regional water recycling programs operated within Santa Clara County. This makes for a very complex approach for getting water to people, through their many water retailers, comprised of both municipal and private/investor-owned utilities.

Since the watersheds probably do not have equal populations, each watershed council should have weighted voting when they meet to manage the Water Utility Enterprise as the “Water Supply Board.” A major benefit of this approach is that watershed boundaries cannot be gerrymandered. They are created by nature and will remain the same, regardless of changes in land use and population.

As the Water Utility Enterprise is run as a business, each watershed council represents the resident-shareholders of each watershed, so each council would have a vote in proportion to its population, using the well known and accepted corporate model. This should take care of the equal representation requirement of the government code. The weighted vote for each watershed can simply be adjusted after each 10-year census.

As these Watershed Council members come together as Water Supply Board, still wearing their watershed hats, if you will, they will be more apt to balance the needs of both the human inhabitants AND the instream/riparian needs within the community. This is a somewhat parallel concept to the city councils acting separately as the Redevelopment Boards while still being elected council members.

Watershed Councils should be elected in open, non-partisan, consolidated primary elections with runoffs in the next general election. Appointments to fill vacancies should be required to gather at least 10% of the registered voters’ support in their electoral Districts and should do so using electronic communications appropriate to the current community standards, sort of like getting fans on Facebook, for example.

As the District is an essential service provider to the cities and the County government, these organizations should have a stronger voice in advising the Water District. A water commission currently exists that includes an elected member of each city, the County BOS and a Water Board member. This group should meet at least quarterly, and more often under drought or flood emergencies, and should be required to read and formally comment on the Water District budget before the Board takes final action to approve its annual or two-year budget.

Other advisory committees should be encouraged by the State’s enabling legislation. Agricultural subsidies, if allowed, should apply to ALL water applied for irrigation of a food crop, not just for commercial food and fiber. Water subsidies for food crop irrigation should be passed on through retailers to consumers. Just as individual home water banks were created during the '86-'91 drought, home/food water banks can be similarly created and monitored through efficient and modern electronic means and be an essential tool for emergency drought management, during a state- or locally-declared emergency.

I am hoping that we can construct a body that works as well as nature, so our politics reflects both the force and delicacy of nature and the human spirit.

Thank you for your consideration of this progressive approach to structuring the Water District’s governance. I will be happy to meet with you or your staff at your earliest convenience.

Never Thirst!

Patrick T. Ferraro, Former Director
Santa Clara Valley Water District. (1972-1995)

Reader comments welcome. Send Senator Simitian your comments.

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