More than half of Valley Water’s board of directors is up for reelection this November, with one facing competition due to a recent extension of term limits.
Four of the seven directors’ terms end this year. Three are seeking reelection, with two running unopposed.
Incumbents Tony Estremera from District 6, John Varela from District 1 and Gary Kremen representing District 7 are looking to serve another term. Linda LeZotte from District 4 is retiring at the end of this year. Directors Barbara Keegan, Nai Hsueh and Richard Santos’ terms end in 2024.
The dynamic might have been different if not for the passage of Measure A, which barely squeaked by with 50.56% of the vote in the June 7 primary election. It needed a simple majority to pass.
Measure A extends term limits for Valley Water directors from three to four terms. Each term is four years. This allows Estremera, who finishes his third term this year, to run again. LeZotte could also run for a fourth term, but is choosing not to because of her opposition to the measure. Directors get paid $349 per meeting for up to 15 meetings per month, and can make almost $63,000 annually.
“When I was elected I promised voters I would only serve 12 years, so that is what I am going to do,” LeZotte told San José Spotlight.
Directors Santos, Estremera, Varela and Kremen voted to put the measure before voters, while LeZotte, Keegan and Hsueh voted against it. They were concerned the ballot language was misleading, leaving some voters to think they were voting for term limits not to be extended. San Jose Councilmember and mayoral hopeful Matt Mahan also criticized the ballot measure as a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Estremera said the people spoke and this measure is what they wanted. He is excited to run for his fourth term and confident voters will reelect him. He has served 26 years on the board, but many of those years do not count against his term limits because he was appointed in the middle of a term.
“I was truly looking forward to retiring this year. But, this is a second drought in a few years, and we’ve got so many projects that I’ve worked on that are just really challenging as of right now,” Estremera told San José Spotlight. “I just felt that I ought to stick around. We really need experienced folks to deal with some of these big challenges that we have.”
He doesn’t have a clear path to victory like his colleagues. Two candidates are running against him—San Jose Planning Commissioner Chuck Cantrell and Santa Clara County Airport Land Use Commissioner Diego Barragan.
Barragan, who served as an aide to Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and former San Jose Councilmember Margie Mathews, said he is running because the board needs new blood, more transparency and accountability. He opposed Measure A.
“That is one thing that called me to run,” Barragan told San José Spotlight. “The way they handled it, the language in the ballot measure, it was deceitful. It seemed to be driven by personal interest. It wasn’t necessarily what’s best for the public.”
He’s also particularly concerned about increasing water rates and will prioritize creek cleanups by providing law enforcement presence to ensure safety along creeks.
Cantrell has been volunteering with environmental groups since age 14. He served as an advisory board member for nonprofit Green Foothills. He said he has a deep understanding of environmental stewardship and wants the board to be transparent with the public. He is endorsed by LeZotte.
“Well, aside from the obvious issue of Measure A, which I thought was reprehensible,” Cantrell told San José Spotlight, “I think one of the problems with the projects that are on the map is the public doesn’t know what they’re planning, why and how.”
He said one easy fix to increase transparency would be to put the meeting minutes on Valley Water’s website so people can read about the board’s decisions.
Candidates running unopposed
Two other incumbents may slide by this election season. Valera, who has served one full term, and Kremen, with two terms, are running unopposed.
Valera told San José Spotlight he is eager to continue working to find sustainable water sources, like recycling water—especially as Santa Clara County works through a severe drought.
Kremen was eyeing the county assessor position earlier this year, but a recent scandal involving nude photos forced him to withdraw from the race. San José Spotlight also found Kremen was the subject of numerous internal complaints for allegedly mistreating workers at the water district—an issue currently under investigation. That hasn’t deterred Kremen from running for reelection, as he filed election papers last week. He did not respond to a request for comment.
With LeZotte retiring, Jim Beall, a former state senator, Santa Clara County supervisor and San Jose councilmember, is running unopposed for her District 4 seat.
He said the water board is something he’s been thinking about for a while because of his passion for environmental stewardship. Beall also said the water district needs to collaborate better with other local government agencies, particularly to solve the issue of homeless people living by the creeks. Beall has been a leading mental health advocate locally and at the state level.
“The water district is important, and it’s important for climate change and our future,” Beall told San José Spotlight. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and I think I can contribute with my experience financing infrastructure and supporting a green economy.”
The election will take place Nov. 8.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.