San Jose official opposes extending water board term limits
Councilmember Matt Mahan speaks about his Smart Growth San Jose Plan on Aug. 4, 2021 in this file photo.

A San Jose councilmember is calling out a local water board for putting a costly and “misleading” measure before voters.

Councilmember Matt Mahan plans to introduce a resolution at City Council next week to oppose Valley Water’s ballot measure, which would allow members to serve four consecutive four-year terms instead of three.

Mahan told San José Spotlight the ballot measure’s language is misleading and the cost of the ballot measure will waste millions in taxpayer dollars.

“It does absolutely nothing to address the real problems we face around water—namely that we’re in the most significant drought in recorded California history,” Mahan said.

Valley Water estimated putting this measure on the ballot will cost about $3.2 million—another concern for Mahan, who is campaigning for mayor on a platform that emphasizes cutting back wasteful government spending. He noted residents in his district are so worried about water rates his office started a community working group to address this issue. He said the money going toward the ballot measure could be used to help hundreds of ratepayers.

“That’s well over 1,000 lawn conversions to drought tolerant plants,” Mahan said. “According to the average amount of water bill debt San Joseans have, that’s 6,000 families whose debts could be relieved.”

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered water agencies around the state to impose stronger water conservation rules as the state descends into another year of severe drought. Water conservation has been a serious problem in San Jose, where local officials imposed a 15% water use reduction on residents last year.

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

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

He said directors believe allowing voters to extend term limits would give the board consistent leadership overseeing complex projects, and potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars due to changes and delays.

Several members are skeptical about the potential benefits of this idea. During February’s meeting, Director Linda LeZotte said the ballot measure language may be legally defensible, but it’s also “intellectually dishonest” because it contains phrasing that could make voters think they were voting to approve a restriction on term limits. According to Callender, Valley Water used the same language from a Board of Supervisors ballot measure from 1998 that increased their term limits from two to three.

Martin Rauchwerk, a resident of District 10 and member of Mahan’s community working group, said he’s upset that Valley Water board members want to extend their term limits, noting the track record of the current board leaves much to be desired.

“We need to have fresh minds that can guide us,” he told San José Spotlight. “Having the old people guide us to these old plans that haven’t been working, or don’t seem to have a viable outcome, seems to be a mistake to me.”

Valley Water Director Richard Santos voted in favor of the measure and told San José Spotlight Mahan, a freshman councilmember, doesn’t have experience. He said voters should decide how long they want board members to serve at Valley Water, and that experience should be a factor in that decision.

“There are people on the board who have a lot of experience—do you want to utilize that or not?” Santos said, noting the county is in the middle of a serious water crisis. “Why should it be restricted?”

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

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

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