Los Gatos Weekly Times

Liccardo blasts proposal: `Self-serving dishonesty'

Ballot measure would let water district board members get 4th term if passed

- By Paul Rogers progers@ bayareanew­sgroup.com

Internal polls taken by the Santa Clara Valley Water District, Silicon Valley's largest water provider, show that voters oppose the idea of extending the term limits of the district's board members, some of whom have served for more than 20 years.

But the district's board, by a 4-3 vote, decided last month to spend $3.2 million in public funds to place a measure on the June 7 Santa Clara County ballot to do it anyway, using language that critics say misleading­ly implies the measure would limit board members' terms.

The Mercury News obtained the internal polling under a state Public Records Act request.

Now San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, former Santa Clara County Supervisor Blanca Alvarado, and — in a highly unusual move, two of the water district's own board members, Linda Lezotte and Nai Hsueh — have signed the ballot argument urging a no vote.

Liccardo said that a handful of district board members are wasting money that could be spent on drought relief and emergency water purchases in a vanity project to extend their terms, while hiding their true intent with deceptive ballot language.

“At a moment when so many residents are struggling to pay skyrocketi­ng water bills, it would have been nice to see the $3 million

used to help provide water to thousands of our residents,” Liccardo said. “Instead, it has been fraudulent­ly misappropr­iated to mislead the public for the political gain of a few board members.

“The entire process reeks of self-serving dishonesty.”

The San Jose City Council was scheduled to vote Wednesday (results were not available at press time) on a resolution by City Councilman Matt Mahan urging a no vote.

But water district board members who support the ballot measure say their more than 20 years of experience are vital at a time of drought emergency.

“We've got very complex issues coming up, and the majority of our board felt we ought to go back to the voters and ask them whether we should change our term limits,” said Tony Estremera, a board member

who has served 26 years and whose term would be up at the end of this year.

Dick Santos, a water district board member who has served 22 years and whose term is set to expire in 2024, said the drought, efforts to rebuild Anderson Dam and other issues the district is facing demand veteran leadership.

“If term limits were so popular, why doesn't Congress have them?” Santos said. “What's wrong with having experience­d people? Why discrimina­te? Let the people vote.”

“FDR served four terms,” he added.

The growing controvers­y comes only weeks after water district board chairman Gary Kremen dropped out of the race for county assessor after a campaign staff member leaked seminude photos of him and his girlfriend, and after Kremen

stepped down indefinite­ly as water board chairman amid an investigat­ion to see whether he was verbally abusive to district staff members.

The water district, a government agency based in San Jose, provides water and flood control to 2 million people in Santa Clara County. Its seven board members are elected to four-year terms. In 2010, following a series of controvers­ies involving district spending, voters in Santa Clara County approved Measure C by 75-25%, which limited the board members to three successive fouryear terms starting in 2010, with more possible if they took at least four years off.

But now several of those board members' terms are coming to an end. At a board meeting Feb. 22, Estremera, Santos, Kremen and board member John Varela voted to place a measure

on the June 7 ballot allowing for a fourth fouryear term.

The ballot language will read: “Shall the measure amending the Santa Clara Valley Water District Ordinance 11-01 to limit Board members to four successive four-year terms be adopted?”

Estremera and water district CEO Rick Callender, who proposed it, said the wording simply mirrors similar language from 1998, when Santa Clara County supervisor­s won voter approval for a measure to extend their terms from two to three.

But the board members who voted against it — Lezotte, Hsueh and Keegan — said it is misleading.

The district's own internal polls reflect those concerns.

In a poll of 600 Santa Clara County likely voters taken in February 2021, voters were asked “shall an ordinance limiting board members to 4 successive 4-year terms be approved?” They answered yes by a margin of 68-25%.

But when they were told that water district board members already are limited to three terms and the measure would add a fourth, voters opposed it 59-37%.

Similar results were found when the water district conducted another poll in February. At first, by a 77-19% margin, they approved the ballot language. But when told that the board members already are limited to three terms, voters opposed the measure 62-36%.

At the meeting last month, Callender was asked about polling and implied that none had been done. The polls, which the district paid EMC Research in Oakland $34,600 and $30,275 to conduct, were not authorized in a board vote.

Callender said last week that no board member told him to order the polls and that it was his decision, although discussion­s of term limits had come up generally at several meetings over the past year.

“No director asked for the poll,” he said. “I poll everything, especially if I know the board is going to be potentiall­y making a decision.”

Lezotte, an environmen­tal attorney who previously served on the San Jose City Council, said last week that she and other water board members were kept in the dark about the polling, even when the issue came up at two recent board meetings.

“The assumption that only this board can complete big projects, or do the work, is ludicrous,” she said. “Change is good. Change brings new ideas and new energy. There are a lot of talented people in Silicon Valley.”

 ?? SANTA CLARA VALLEY WATER DISTRICT ?? The board of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, a government agency based in San Jose, consists of, from left, Tony Estremera, Dick Santos, John Varela, Gary Kremen, Barbara Keegan, Nai Hsueh and Linda Lezotte.
SANTA CLARA VALLEY WATER DISTRICT The board of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, a government agency based in San Jose, consists of, from left, Tony Estremera, Dick Santos, John Varela, Gary Kremen, Barbara Keegan, Nai Hsueh and Linda Lezotte.

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