Challenger could unseat controversial Silicon Valley water director
As of Tuesday night, Rebecca Eisenberg is the frontrunner in the race for District 7 of the Valley Water board of directors. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Eisenberg.

    Last updated 5 p.m. on Tuesday. The next update is 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

    The latest election results show Santa Clara County’s largest water supplier may soon have two new directors, and one of its most controversial leaders might be on his way out.

    Corporate attorney Rebecca Eisenberg has a commanding lead so far in her attempt to unseat District 7 Valley Water Director Gary Kremen. Poll results Thursday show District 6 Director Tony Estremera still seems likely to hold his seat against two challengers, Diego Barragán and Chuck Cantrell.

    Incumbent John Varela ran unopposed in District 1, as did former Silicon Valley state Sen. Jim Beall, who will replace District 4 Director Linda LeZotte when she retires at the end of December. Valley Water manages water access for the county’s two million residents with an annual budget of $917 million.

    Eisenberg has 54.8% of the vote, while Kremen trails with 45.2%. About 90% of ballots have been counted.

    “Any statistician, I believe, would look at these numbers and say that I won,” Eisenberg told San José Spotlight. “It is really hard to beat an incumbent. If I did, I’m thrilled.”

    Eisenberg, who ran on a climate change-centered campaign, said her early lead is evidence of the public’s apetite for candidates who take eco-focused issues seriously. She has criticized Kremen’s $500 million pet project, the Pacheco Dam, which Kremen claims will help the county increase its water reserves. Eisenberg has called the project unnecessary and environmentally destructive.

    Kremen has been plagued by controversy this year. Last Tuesday, the water board unanimously voted to accept the results of a seven-month investigation into Kremen, which found he had bullied district employees and threatened the jobs of workers who disagreed with him. Kremen requested the investigation after San José Spotlight uncovered misconduct allegations and multiple complaints of abuse of power against him. The investigation did not find credible allegations of sexual harassment against Kremen.

    Kremen did not respond to a request for comment.

    Estremera leads the polls in the District 6 race with 44.5% of the vote. Barragán, a public relations manager, and San Jose Planning Commissioner Cantrell both trail behind Estremera with 30.1% and 25.4% of the vote, respectively.

    Estremera did not respond to a request for comment.

    Barragán conceded that the initial tally did not bode well for him or Cantrell. That Estremera still had not gained 50% of the votes, Barragán said, was a sign that many voters want change.

    “It shows that the incumbent hasn’t been paying attention to the district,” he said. “I believe the district has spoken.”

    Barragán worked as an aide to Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and former San Jose Councilmember Margie Mathews. He told San José Spotlight in July the board needs new faces and more transparency.

    But with roughly half of votes still uncounted, Cantrell said the race is far from over.

    “Based on the way that the campaign unfolded, I’m not certain of a good trend analysis now,” he told San José Spotlight. “I wouldn’t hang up my hat yet.”

    Cantrell served as an advisory board member for Green Foothills, a San Jose environmental group. He said his understanding of environmental stewardship made him the right candidate for regulating the county’s water in a state troubled by increasingly severe drought.

    In another controversy this year, both Estremera and Kremen supported Measure A in the June primary, which extended director term limits. Other board members criticized the measure’s poor wording, saying the language could deceive voters into extending term limits without realizing what they were voting for.

    The debate split the board along gender lines. Directors Richard Santos, Varela, Estremera and Kremen supported allowing voters to decide on the measure, while Nai Hsueh, Barbara Keegan and LeZotte voted against it.

    Voters approved the measure by a scant 50.56% majority in the June primary, extending the directors’ term limits from three to four terms of four years each.

    This story will be updated.

    Contact Brian Howey at [email protected] or @SteelandBallast on Twitter.

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