Thursday, December 23, 2010

Second board meeting: environmental review issues, ag water, and water rates

Our December 21 meeting video is here, also with accompanying documents. Also try here if you have trouble opening the documents.

Among the issues: I learned at this meeting (Item 5) that private applicants or their consultants will prepare preliminary versions of environmental documents used by the Water District, as opposed to the more typical practice of cities preparing the documents themselves (or hiring consultants themselves), and requiring reimbursement from applicants. I have some concerns about this process, and intend to look into it.

Water rates for farming operations are far cheaper than the rates for everyone else (Item 7). In the last two years, these rates have been kept held down, in part, through the use of money meant to protect open space. I can understand the reasoning, but at a cost of over $1 million annually, I think that needs some analysis.

It's also clear from the presentations that the current water rates, frozen for three years, are going to have to increase (Item 7 and Item 8). The proposals are for about 9% annually for a number of years, or even more to deal with some additional infrastructure problems. Keeping rates frozen, by contrast, would put us in the same bind as San Francisco and the water it supplies to North Santa Clara County, where the rates are going up much, much higher due to deferred infrastructure replacement. Still, this is going to be very controversial politically.

Next meeting is January 11. Happy Holidays, everyone!


Saturday, December 18, 2010

First day on the job, and questions about being the Chair in 2011

While we took our legal oath of office on December 3, you could say our first day on the job was Tuesday the 14th, the first Water District Board meeting for the new Board. You can watch this meeting and other meetings by going to the meeting video page and clicking on the date (you can watch it live as it happens, and usually within 24 hours afterwards the video is posted on that page).

Probably the most interesting and controversial issue was the decision over the rules governing who could become chair of the Board (Item 13 on the agenda). I co-authored a memo along with Directors Lezotte and Gage that went in the complete opposite direction of a prior initiative to extend the time required before a Board member - we eliminated the experience requirement entirely, and our motion passed on a 4-3 vote. We also set a rotation system in place that continues the current planned rotation starting in 2012, with 2011 being a transition year that doesn't follow rotation and simply has an election.

I can see the advantage of experience and reasons for wanting to wait, but I disagree in that experience should be an absolute requirement that trumps all other reasons why someone should be chair. If a new director is in line to become chair, that director can choose to skip his or her turn.

Even though we ended up on different sides of the vote, I thought Director Estremera had some interesting statements on the issue, where he said what was being done was simply applying majority rule. Of course, that's always true - a majority determines the rules and can change the rules, and the system we think should happen in 2012 or later according to rotation, could be changed by a future majority of Board members if they chose.

Thinking more broadly about the question of how to select the chair, I think there are two perspectives that apply. One is that the chair is the leader of the Board of Directors, and therefore should be the person who has the support of the majority of the Board. Alternatively, the position of chair is a duty and right that comes from being from a Board member and should therefore be shared proportionately between members, just like committee memberships are shared proportionately.

I don't see a reason why one of those two perspectives is the clearly right one, but you have to make some kind of decision. What we did, in effect, is set up a single, transitional year where the first perspective of majority rule is in effect (2011), followed thereafter by a rotational system. Given the large number of new Board members and our desire to make a number of changes, I think it's an appropriate decision and the best one, and obviously that's the reason I supported it.

I understand the reasoning behind other systems though, like a pure majoritarian system that Director Estremera was proposing. While politics sometimes offers "clean" decisions of clearly right and wrong positions, I think other times it's a matter of each person using one's best judgment. I have no problem with Director Estremera's best judgment that happened to disagree with mine in this case, and I look forward to hearing his ideas on other issues that will come to the Board.


UPDATE: Probably worth mentioning that opinions expressed here are just my own - I'm not trying to express the official opinion of the Board, and the last word on any opinions of other Directors, like my recollection of Director Estremera's statements above, belongs to that Director.

UPDATE 2: Per Diana's excellent suggestion in the comments: the 4-3 vote had Schmidt, Lezotte, Gage, and Judge on one side, with Estremera, Santos, and Kwok on the other. I should say there were two votes, the first voting down a substitute motion by Director Estremera with the sides I've just mentioned, and the second supporting our own motion. One of the three votes against may have dropped out in the second vote - I just listened to the video and that seemed to be the case.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thank you!! We've done it!

We posted the message below to the main page of the campaign website:

Thank you!!

After all this time, it's hard to believe that we're here. I'm so very glad to tell you that, barring some last minute strange returns, we've won, and due to your efforts I will be the District 7 Director for the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

So thank you all for voting, for helping, and for all that you did. This was a group effort in the best sense of the word, with different people rising up at different times to seize the opportunity of pushing the campaign forward. The fact that there are too many people to thank is the reason why we've won.

We've won despite our decision to severely limit the size and influence of individual campaign contributions, by voluntarily setting a maximum donation by individuals at $250. We won despite that, because of everyone's work on the ground, and we're now set to bring real campaign financing reform to the Water District in time for its next election.

We will be able to fix the District governance, and work to improve its mission. There's so much I want to do, in addition to cleaning up mercury contamination, keeping development away from streams, and putting environmental restoration on an equal footing with the flood control and water supply. I want to thank everyone who's helped and above all, everyone who voted to make this happen. And I very much appreciate my opponent, Los Altos City Council Member Lou Becker, for his thoughtful and civil campaign.

Now the work begins. Onward!


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

This is it! Thank you everyone, and please vote!

Hoping for the best! As we wait for the returns, I just want to thank everyone for the tremendous amount of support and enthusiasm during this race.

The Registrar of Voters has information on where to drop off vote-by-mail ballots (too late now to mail them) and a link for how to find your polling place if you vote at the polls.

Let's keep our fingers crossed on local, statewide, and national results.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Why I hope to earn your vote for the Water District election

Tomorrow is Election Day, and I thank every voter reading this for taking the extra step of researching this election by coming to my campaign website and blog. This post explains why I think my campaign has been endorsed by the Mercury News, the Mountain View Voice, super-majorities of the Mountain View City Council (five of seven members) and Palo Alto council (eight of nine), and majorities of the County Board of Supervisors and Los Altos Hills City Council. And from the County Democratic Party, the Sierra Club, County League of Conservation Voters, and community members, businesses, and unions, with the endorsements found here.

I have been involved with water issues and other civic issues for over fourteen years since I moved to our area to study environmental law at Stanford. As an environmental lawyer with a special interest in water, I have worked to protect our water resources and for safe and environmentally-sound flood control. Working for over seven years as the Santa Clara County Advocate for Committee for Green Foothills, over six years at the Water District's Environmental Advisory Committee, and at the District's Performance Audit Committee, I have seen helped get the right work done but see the possibility to do more.

The Water District is a solid organization with trouble at its Board of Directors, with inadequate democracy and inadequate citizen involvement. I propose evening meetings so working citizens can attend and serve as Directors. I would remove artificial restrictions on citizen advisory and oversight committees, letting them operate more like similar city and county committees in being able to set agendas and offer recommendations. I would support reasonable and meaningful term limits - while Measure C deserves support, it doesn't go far enough because it isn't retroactive, and I'm pledging to serve no more than two terms regardless of Measure C's success.

Fixing these problems will help us address core issues for the Water District. I believe we can do much more to address mercury contamination in what is one of the worst, if not the worst-contaminated county in the state. We can champion state efforts to get any company bringing mercury into the state to either retrieve all their mercury or help our existing mercury cleanup efforts. We can do more to ensure cities are following policies to keep new development away from streams. We can specifically work on maintaining recent progress to address flooding along San Francisquito Creek, and to start addressing the major problem of protecting our cities from sea-level and Bay-level rise that will result from climate change.

We can do this all while controlling costs. I've called for cutting Water District Director compensation by over 50%, to more closely match City Council compensation. I've been calling for close examination over Water District involvement over the economically and environmentally risky proposals to dredge a port in Alviso. I'm the only candidate who's observed that emergency boat evacuation could possibly be done more cheaply from Moffett, or that the money might be better spent for disaster preparation in totally different ways.

Finally, the effort shown in my campaign mirrors the effort I would bring if elected. The Brian For Water campaign website is by far the most detailed. This is the only campaign blog, a place where we can provide details about new ideas, and we have the only Facebook campaign page in this race, detailing outreach to the community. The extensive outreach door-to-door, at farmers markets, at Caltrain stations and elsewhere, are also chances to interact with community where we are the only ones doing so in this race. I have attended the last three Water District Board meetings before the election and have been the only candidate there.

I'm eager to put the experience and the new energy I can provide by serving at the Water District Board, and I thank you for considering this opportunity to do great things to protect our water supply, to provide safe and environmentally-sound flood control, and to take significant steps to protect our streams and watersheds.

-Brian Schmidt

Stopping incumbent protection through limited public funding of Water District elections

Like water recycling, I've talked about this idea a few times at public events and so I wanted to make sure to get the idea out on the blog. While I've been very hesitant to propose any increase in spending for the District, my proposal to cut Director compensation by over 50% would easily pay for limited public funding of Water District elections. We need some real reform at the level of the District Board, and this is an important way to level the playing field between incumbents and challengers.

The idea is to budget $25,000 annually for the elections. Since elections occur only ever other year, that would leave $50,000 available for an election. All candidates could get matching funds for the first $50 of a contribution by an individual to that candidate (someone donating a large amount only gets $50 matched, another equalizing element), up to a total maximum amount per candidate. Even if this program had $10,000 in administrative costs, it would still leave a reasonable chunk of money to match small contributions. And my proposal to cut Director compensation from over $30,000 annually per Director to less than half would more than compensate for this cost.

I do have to emphasize this is a just a general idea, and if the details prove it unworkable, then so be it. I think it could work though, and it could be an important part of democratic reform at the District Board.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Water utility decoupling for water conservation?

This subject is an idea to be explored rather than a firm commitment, but it's an idea for promoting water conservation in the same way that California has promoted energy conservation: decoupling the profits that regulated companies make from selling energy, or water, from the amount that's used.

See here for more information. The electricity system in much of the country lets private utilities make a profit that depends on the amount of electricity used, so naturally, those companies are not at all enthusiastic or cooperative in energy conservation efforts. In California, the utilities can make money by investing in conservation efforts that reduce the amount of energy that customers use, and the utility then is allowed to charge a little more. The result is that total bill Californians pay is typical for Americans, but the total used is much less, down to almost half of the typical usage.

We can explore the same solution for water (and there has been some work in this area). This could do a lot to increase water conservation, and help align the private and public interest together in doing more to protect our most essential natural resource.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Aquacue blog: Brian Schmidt has right water conservation priorities for the Water District

A nice blog post by a new water-efficiency business, Aquacue:

....In Santa Clara county the average residential monthly water bill is less than $50 per month. A morning cup of plain coffee at a coffee shop costs more than the 300 gallons or so per day that most households use.

Instead of focusing on reducing the water bill, the new board ought to focus on ensuring the long term supply of clean and abundant water, adding infrastructure to support delivery of recycled water for irrigation, and improving water conservation. Cost cutting to support these objectives is a good plan, but not cost cutting to reduce the water bill. Couple of the candidates:Brian Schmidt and Linda LeZotte appear to have these as their top priorities for the board.

I agree that for many residents, the water bill is exactly what they say, smaller than the daily cost of coffee. Of course some people do have high bills though and that is where water conservation efforts can help. And getting people to be water conscious through adding meters to the currently-unmetered use in many apartments and mobile homes could also do a lot to promote conservation.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More on getting work done: comments submitted to the Water District on protecting streamside areas

(As was the case last week, I attended a Water District meeting today and submitted comments yesterday. Again as was the case last week, I was the only candidate who either attended or submitted comments. The submitted comments are below (I made them on behalf of Committee for Green Foothills), and I also spoke on these issues and asked for further clarification of the seismic stability problem at Anderson Dam, a serious issue that's likely going to cost a significant amount of money to fix. I intend to watch that issue closely. -Brian)

October 25, 2010

Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors

Re: Agenda Item 12, BMR-10-0064 regarding exceptions to riparian ordinances

Dear Chair Santos and District Board Members;

The Committee for Green Foothills agrees with the Staff recommendation that the two options that Staff identified for performance evaluations of riparian protections would likely be unproductive for the cost involved. However, it may be productive to broaden the BMR to consider more generally whether land use agencies have provided the adequate riparian protection that was the necessary counterpart to revoking Water District Ordinance 83-2 as well as the decision to desis from expanding the District's permit authority to a 150-foot buffer. The BMR might also consider whether the District could do more to assist in the application of adequate riparian protection policies.

I would encourage consideration of specific examples to see whether the protection the District sought through expanding Ordinance 83-2 has been achieved under present conditions. Several examples that immediately spring to mind include:

· Los Altos Hills, with a 25-foot riparian buffer policy.

· Los Gatos and the development recently proposed along Ross Creek.

· San Jose and the relatively recent development projects on Duckett Way and Guadalupe Mines Road.

In each case the District might analyze whether it could help with riparian protection under current policies. For example, in the case of the Guadalupe Mines Road project, the District submitted a useful comment letter prior to the initiation of CEQA review for the project, but the District did not comment on the CEQA document itself and did not provide comments when the project approval was appealed by environmental groups and another governmental agency, the Guadalupe Coyote Resource Conservation District.

We believe that more can be done to improve riparian protection. Because we are aware of interest in different cities for improving policies (for example, San Jose's proposed Draft General Plan revision to reduce exceptions to its 100-foot buffer policy), we think this could be advanced in a way that shows the District's concern but is still productive and cooperative.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Voter: "I'm a Republican, and I'm supporting you."

I had a very encouraging conversation yesterday meeting a voter while handing out flyers at the Mountain View Farmers Market. While the race for the Water District is a non-partisan race, I personally am a Democrat and have been endorsed by the Santa Clara County Democratic Party. My opponent is a Republican who's endorsed by the County Republican Party (he hasn't chosen to list it on his website but can be seen here). Still, we both are free to encourage people to vote for us regardless of their party affiliation, or non-affiliation.

So it was great to talk to this Republican voter - he said that although he's Republican, he's voting for me because he's seen me out at the farmers markets talking to people and really making an effort. I think it shows something to people - having been to art festivals, farmer markets, and Caltrain stations, not to mention all the precinct walking that volunteers and I have done - that the effort trying to reach people in this campaign reflects the effort I will put into the job if elected. I am also more than happy to compare campaign websites for content and specificity, not to mention this blog with over 30 different posts, and our more recent Facebook page.

The majority of the work that the Water District Board will do isn't work that splits people along ideological lines, it's just a matter of getting the work done and putting in the effort. We very much appreciate the voter recognition of that effort.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Water recycling is a great idea; water desalination has serious problems

I've been asked a number of times about my opinion on water recycling. I think it's a great opportunity to do more with our existing water supply, rather than constantly searching for new water sources. Water recycling treats used water so it can be reused, currently for landscaping and agriculture (the "purple pipe" we see increasingly in various parts of the County is the separate piping system for recycled water).

It certainly makes much more sense to use recycled water instead of drinking water on landscaping and farmland. The next stage, something already done in southern California, is to purify recycled water and pump it back into the groundwater table, where we can fully reuse it.

So I support the existing programs for recycled water, and the role it has in the Water District budget will allow recycled water to expand. I'd also be interested in even more expansion, but I don't see the Water District's budget expanding anytime soon, so we'd have to figure out where the money would come from to accelerate the process.

Desalination (the process of converting saltwater to freshwater), by contrast, has some significant problems. A huge amount of energy is consumed in the desalination process, making it both expensive and environmentally problematic. The remainder of desalination is a soupy salt brine that creates a big disposal problem, especially for us bordering the shallow San Francisco Bay. Any approach to desalination would have to be done very carefully.

Finally, while I distinguish between water recycling and desalination, the distinction is really a matter of degree. Recycling also consumes energy and also has leftover materials. But being able to think in shades of gray is an important part of policy, which is why water recycling should be more encouraged than desalination. Most important of all though is water conservation, reducing the initial demand, and we can still do a lot more on this issue.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Comments submitted to the Water District Board on changing its environmental policies

(Yesterday I attended the Water District Board workshop on changing its overall guidance policies. In addition to attending, I spoke at the meeting and submitted the letter below. The District invited the Board candidates, but I was the only one who attended (in my case, on behalf of Committee for Green Foothills). It might help to read the Board materials for October 20, 2010 and Agenda Item 4 to understand the letter I submitted. We did get some action on one item, but the others will have to wait another day. -Brian)

October 20, 2010

Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors

Re: Agenda Item 4, Ends Policy Workshop and Recommendations of the Environmental Advisory Committee

Dear Chair Santos and Board Members;

I submit the following comments on behalf of the Committee for Green Foothills regarding the Ends Policies recommendations of the Environmental Advisory Committee. We thank District Staff for their work with the EAC and other committees, and for Staff's support of the large majority of Ends Policy changes that the EAC has recommended in recent years. In some cases discussed below we disagree with staff on certain recommendations, and in others we believe that staff misunderstood the purpose of the recommendations.

My comments refer to Attachment 2, Advisory Committee Recommendations:

Policy 1 E-2, language regarding change in winter storms from a mix of rain and snow to mostly rain. The staff response misunderstands this recommendation to deal with water supply, possibly considering it a reference to Sierra snowpack changes. It actually concerned our local hydrology, where winter storms that currently deliver snow at high elevations will increasingly switch to rain throughout, with a possible increase to flood risk. While Executive Limitation EL7.7 on understanding climate change impacts might apply here, the EAC hasn't been informed that flooding forecasts have actually been analyzed to consider this issue.

Policy 2 E-2, language on policies for geographic areas outside of the District. Staff misunderstands this recommendation to refer to adequate supplies of imported water. It actually referred to the environmental impacts the District doubtless has on geographic areas through our imported water use and other potential effects (examples may include downstream flooding on the Pajaro and operation of the San Luis Reservoir). The idea is that the District's interest in minimizing its environmental impact extends beyond District boundaries.

Policy 7 E-4, language regarding habitat conservation plans. We may need more specifics on this recommendation from the EAC's July 2010 meeting.

Policy 10 E-4.1.3, recommending a new Objective to "Protect, enhance, and restore the natural physical stability/dynamic equilibrium of streams." Staff disagree with this recommendation for two reasons. First they say (correctly) that the concepts are considered at Staff level. While true, the question is whether Objectives set by the Board provide sufficient direction for Staff to execute the Board Policies. The existing Objective most closely related to this issue is E-4.1.2, "Improve watersheds, streams, and natural resources." (See Attachment 6, page 1.) The opinion that EAC members and subcommittee members have expressed is that Objective 4.1.2 does not provide adequate direction. While details done at Staff level are helpful, they do not make up for inadequate direction given at the Board level in the Objectives.

The second objection raised by staff is that many factors need to be balanced for District projects. The EAC concurs and raises no objection to existing Objective 4.1.1, "Balance water supply, flood protection, and environmental stewardship functions." The proposed Objective no more conflicts with this balancing provision than does existing Objective 4.1.2 to improve watersheds, streams, and natural resources.

Policy 11 E-4.1.4, a new Objective to "Protect, enhance and restore thriving populations of key species indicative watershed health." The same issue arises here as above, that Staff interpretation does not remove the need for adequate Board direction, and Objective 4.1.2 is too general to provide adequate direction.

Staff also state that restoring habitat is better wording than restoring species. If the Board agrees with Staff, then the solution here would be to reword this Objective rather than reject it outright.

Policy 12 E-4.1.5, a new Objective to "Protect, enhance, and restore riparian and in-stream and tidal habitat conditions conducive to watershed health, including diked historical bay land wetlands and former salt ponds." Same issues as with the previous two Objectives, that existing Objective 4.1.2, "Improve watersheds, streams, and natural resources," does not provide real direction to Staff.

We appreciate Staff's support for Policies 14 and 15, as well as Staff support for many EAC policy recommendations that have already been incorporated into Board policies.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mercury News gives Brian its endorsement and news coverage

Pretty exciting news from the what is by far the biggest daily newspaper in Santa Clara County.

Gage, Lezotte and Schmidt will help reform Santa Clara Valley Water District

According to the Mercury News:

The Santa Clara Valley Water District is ripe for reform in the Nov. 2 election, thanks to the pileup of board outrages over the past three years and the addition of new electoral seats. Finally, there's a real chance to shake up the leadership that too often has provided poor oversight of an agency with an annual budget of $315 million in taxpayers' money. Trustees sometimes stay for upward of 20 years on this board, perhaps addicted to the pay and benefits that are excessive for the part-time job.

Fortunately, in three contested seats for the seven-member board, there are good candidates. We recommend outgoing Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage in District 1, former San Jose Councilwoman Linda LeZotte in District 4 and environmental attorney Brian Schmidt in District 7....

District 7 offers the toughest choice. Both Schmidt and Los Altos City Councilman Lou Becker seem solid on reform and are qualified for the job. We lean toward Schmidt because of his longtime advocacy and deep understanding of environmental issues. His relative youth -- at 43 he would be easily the youngest board member -- could also inject new energy into the board. In addition, his North County orientation would balance Gage, who is backed by the farm bureau and cattlemen.

In recent years, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has sparked major controversy, with accusations of gerrymandering and grand juries questioning its spending.

This year, Santa Clara County's largest water provider is facing a rare occurrence: multiple, high-profile candidates running for its board.

Seven candidates are running in next month's election for three open seats on the board, which oversees an annual budget of $315 million and supplies drinking water and flood protection to 1.8 million county residents....

In the final open seat, for District 7, which runs from Palo Alto to Almaden Valley, environmental attorney Brian Schmidt, 43, faces Lou Becker, 76, a retired civil engineer and member of the Los Altos City Council.

Schmidt, a registered Democrat, is a staff attorney with the non-profit Committee for Green Foothills. He supports a limit of two terms for board members, a reduction in their salaries -- from $260 per meeting to half that -- and a more pro-active environmental stance for the district. Chairman of the county Fish and Game Commission, he supports tougher state laws for mercury pollution, is leaning against an Alviso Port and wants more water conservation and recycling programs.

He is endorsed by the Sierra Club and by Kniss, Shirakawa and Yeager.....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Director compensation going the wrong way

(We submitted the letter below the Water District Board and argued in favor of it front of the Board - I was the only candidate there. Unfortunately, the Board voted to go in the wrong direction, with a 10% compensation increase. I hope to get that reversed if elected. -Brian)

October 12, 2010

Santa Clara Valley Water District, Board of Directors

Re: Agenda Item 5 - Board member responsibilities and compensation should be made roughly comparable to those of City Council Members

Dear Chair Santos and Members of the Board:

I am impressed with the importance of the Board's work and the time I have seen given to that work. Chair Santos in particular has been involved with some of the same projects that also concern my environmental work in San Jose, and he's always present and participating. While I believe the Water District Board needs to recast its responsibilities and reduce its compensation, my belief in no way denigrates the work and commitment of current or past Board Directors.

The main problem as I see it is that this Board is straddling an uncomfortable middle ground between the full-time, fully-compensated work of bodies like our County Board of Supervisors, and the more limited work and modest compensation of most City Councils in our County. I think it would make more sense to choose one of these two roles and to operate like a City Council, with comparable hours and comparable compensation.

Switching to evening meetings, like most City Councils, would make it much more feasible for people who have day jobs to serve on the District Board, as well as make it possible for more people to attend meetings. Switching to a rate of compensation that is similar to that of City Council Members would therefore be appropriate.

The rate of $260 per meeting and up to $2,600 per month is not similar to what Council Members receive. I suggest cutting the rate by more than 50%, to about $100-$125 per meeting and up to $1000-$1,250 per month. Such a rate would still be at the high end of what council members receive, but at least would be in the general range of comparable payment rates. Making this proposed cut would demonstrate that the District Board is serious about cost control and about reconnecting to the community by adopting a more broadly accepted compensation rate.

Two additional steps should also be taken. First, there is a potential conflict between Water Code section 20201 that allows the District Board to raise the compensation rate, and the District Act that sets a fixed limit significantly below the proposed compensation rate. While I appreciate the helpful explanatory paragraph in today's agenda item, I suggest the Board direct District Counsel to prepare a publicly-available memo explaining in more detail how these two laws interact and the reason why the District does not believe the fixed limit in the District Act is applicable. In particular, the memo should explain whether section 33 of the District Act was passed later in time than the Water Code section, or if the Water Code section has been subsequently restated or reauthorized. The memo should also state why the Directors compensation had not been reset to the rate fixed by section 33 at the time that the District Act was last reauthorized by the legislature (note that section 20201 uses the word "increases," not "changes," when saying increases should be governed by the Water Code and not by legislation).

Second, the District Board should set rules regarding when a Director can be compensated for participating in community meetings if that Director has determined that he or she has a conflict of interest over the primary subject matter of the meeting. My recommendation is that if the Director has determined that he or she has a conflict that prevents participation in a decision at the Board, then that Director should only participate in community meetings on the subject as a private person and should not be compensated for that participation. If the meeting also concerns other Water District subjects, then compensation may be appropriate, but only if the treatment of other subjects is more than de minimus. It is not clear to me whether any such rules currently exist, but I have not seen mention of them.

I thank the District Board for this opportunity to comment, and please feel free to contact me with any questions.


Brian Schmidt

Brian Schmidt for Santa Clara Valley Water District 2010

A limit to term limits?

Today I heard that there may be some obscure limitation in the ability of the State legislature to impose term limits on special districts created by the state. It seems strange to me and I've talked to plenty of lawyers about the idea of just putting limits in the enabling legislation without hearing this issue, but I just wanted to flag the potential problem until I have time to research it.

Obviously if this is the case, then the idea I've had of saving the money involved in putting term limits on the ballot by putting it in legislation instead, isn't going to work. Still, there are plenty of other opportunities to save money, starting with cutting compensation for Directors to a level comparable to that of City Council Members.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Let your friends know - ballots are going out

Here's an email we're sending out - if you can help, please just scroll over everything below, and copy and paste into an email to send to anyone in the District 7 (from north to south that's Palo Alto, Stanford, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Monte Sereno, Los Gatos, South Almaden, and County lands from Skyline Drive down to the city boundaries).


Email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser.
Brian Schmidt for Santa Clara Valley Water District Board
Water: The Most Important Issue on Your November Ballot

Brian Schmidt is an environmental lawyer running for the Santa Clara Valley Water District to help with the mission of flood control, water supply, and stream and watershed health. Brian is running for election to Water District 7, representing Palo Alto, Stanford, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Monte Sereno, Los Gatos, and the San Jose neighborhood of South Almaden Valley.

If elected, Brian will:
* Clean mercury from our watershed
* Give YOU a voice in managing your water
* Bring the environment to the forefront

Brian has years of experience with water issues and with the Water District, and has been endorsed by conservation organizations and by the majority of the Council Members in Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Los Altos Hills. They believe he can help the Water District coordinate work with local governments.

Brian will bring reform by supporting evening meetings, meaningful term limits, and broader roles for citizen oversight committees. Brian supports expanding existing programs for cleaning up the significant mercury contamination problem we have with our fish and streams. Bringing the environment to the forefront of the District's work in flood protection and water supply will help improve our quality of life and our local economy.

For more information, please visit:

and look for BRIAN SCHMIDT
on your District 7 ballot

“Brian Schmidt represents the new wave of environmental leaders, one who is knowledgeable about the importance of water in our lives. He is an authentic public servant who will make a significant contribution to the Water District.”

- Mary Davey, President, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District

Partial list of endorsements:


  • Santa Clara County Democratic Party
  • The Sierra Club
  • Dean Democratic Club of Silicon Valley
  • Santa Clara County League of Conservation Voters
  • Peninsula Democratic Coalition
  • Local unions

Elected and former elected officials including:

  • California State Assembly Member Jim Beall
  • Liz Kniss and the majority of Santa Clara County Supervisors
  • San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon and Candidate for State Assembly
  • The majority of City Council members in Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View
Our mailing address is:
Brian Schmidt for Santa Clara Valley Water District 2010
PO Box 391176
Mountain View, California 94043

Copyright (C) 2010 Brian Schmidt for Santa Clara Valley Water District 2010 All rights reserved.
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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In the news: my campaign video statement

The Midpeninsula Community Media Center is covering the Water District election and published my campaign statement. Here it is!


UPDATE: There may be a limit to using state legislation to create term limits for the Water District, so consider my proposal to cut Director compensation in half to be a better idea of a specific way to save money.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mary Davey

I'm saddened to report the death of local icon, Mary Davey, after a brief illness. We'll have more to say later, but Mary had been a mentor to me and to many others, and provided me all kinds of help and advice, including up into this last week on my campaign. Over two weeks ago she gave us a wonderful quote to use in our campaign mail piece, and I was able to read it to her at the hospital late last week and tell her that people are listening to her by the thousands.

We'll sorely miss her, but as she was such an optimistic and cheerful person, we'll be greatly celebrating her life and her presence in our lives.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A democratic election requires clean campaign finances

Money is both good and bad in a democracy - reasonably-sized donations, and also small donations, are good - they show belief in a candidate and broad participation in a campaign. Large third-party donations can be a problem though - there's an implicit sense of obligation between the candidate and the donor.

An equivalent or worse problem is with loans made by a candidate to his or her campaign that are paid back by someone else after the election. That repayment, after the election, goes straight into the candidate's pocket. For some reason, no one focuses on this issue, but to me it's an even more obvious problem than large donations.

In the Water District race, neither donations nor loans are subject to any legal controls. I think that's unacceptable. To deal with loans, I'm making a simple pledge: I won't do them.

To deal with donations, I've set limits. Right now the limits I've made are $250 per person, $500 per couple, and $500 per organization. I'd be happy to lock this limit into stone, but unfortunately my opponent hasn't been willing to make the same pledge. I'll have to look at the campaign finance reports when they come out early next month to see if I should adjust this limit, but I can guarantee that I will keep some limit, most likely the same one I'm using now.

I plan to make sure that my campaign finances use money and donations as a democratic equalizer, instead of something that concentrates power unequally. Clean government requires clean and fair campaign finances.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

There will be yard signs! Let us know if you'd like one

We should have yard signs in a few days - please let us know if you'd like one. Just email, and we'll get in touch.


Slow the Flow: How to make your landscape act more like a sponge

Very nice video below from the State Water Board on how built-out, human dominated landscapes can be vastly improved to reduce runoff and pollution, while still functioning for human needs.

Nice examples of permeable cement, downspout disconnects from storm sewers, paved areas feeding water to swales instead of sewers, and more use of native plants and wildlife-friendly plants. I covered some of these topics on the reduction of impervious surfaces in a research paper I wrote several years ago.

Enjoy the show!

(Thanks to Trish Mulvey for a pointer to the video.)


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Majority of Board of Supervisors have endorsed, Sierra Club endorsed, and Democratic Party clubs are endorsing

More progress - I've been endorsed by a majority of the supervisors in Santa Clara County, not to mention Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, and Palo Alto council members.

Organizational endorsements are also rolling in, with the support of Sierra Club and Democratic Party clubs, so stay tuned!


Friday, September 10, 2010

We're now endorsed by a majority of Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, and Palo Alto City Council Members!

We're very pleased to announce that a majority of the sitting City Council Members in Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, and Palo Alto (carefully listed in alphabetical order) has endorsed the Brian Schmidt for Water District campaign. Please see the endorsement list page of the campaign website for more information.

I've been asked a number of times about endorsers of the other candidate in this campaign, Lou Becker, a City Council member in Los Altos (and a nice person, by the way). Lou's website is, but at this point he hasn't put up an endorsement list. I know of very few elected officials who have endorsed him, but I expect he'll do well among his fellow Los Altos City Council members, and I know of one person on my list of endorsers who has endorsed both of us. At some point, Lou might post his own list that will make it easier to make comparisons.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The County League of Conservation Voters endorses Brian

I'm very happy to announce the Santa Clara County League of Conservation Voter's endorsement of my campaign (click on "endorsements" to see the list of endorsed candidates).

They'll be announcing the endorsed candidates at their annual fundraiser on September 30. I'll be glad to attend, and I encourage everyone to go as well. I've gone to almost all of these events over the last 5-6 years, and it's a great time to catch up with people and candidates who are committed to the environment.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why Californians and especially Bay Area voters should vote NO on Proposition 23

(We had a great time at yesterday's Palo Alto Festival of the Arts, and we were the only political campaign to have a table set up in the Free Speech area. In addition to talking to people and giving out flyers to voters, we had the brochure below urging them to vote No on Proposition 23. More info is available here. -Brian)

Save our water, save our streams, save our jobs

Please vote NO on Proposition 23

On behalf of the Brian Schmidt for Water District 2010 campaign, we encourage all California voters to turn out and vote against Proposition 23, a cynical proposition funded by Texas oil companies to effectively kill California’s premier law combating climate change. You can help California and help your community by stopping Proposition 23.

Proposition 23 will hurt our economy, especially our local Bay Area economy

Proposition 23 only helps the Texas oil companies that are funding it – independent legal analyses show no overall economic harm is caused by implementing measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Particularly in the Silicon Valley, we need to provide leadership and support the transition to a green economy that we’re seeing right now

Proposition 23 will hurt our streams, the Bay, and your Water District

Climate change is reducing our water supply by changing the snows of the Sierras into rain, which is much more difficult to store. In our local area we have the chance for more droughts and less reliable and predictable rainfall patterns. We will have increased risk from flooding, both from the potential of bigger storms and especially from the rising water levels in San Francisco Bay and at near sea-level creeks feeding into the Bay. Proposition 23 will hamstring efforts to combat climate change. Your taxes already have to be spent to deal with climate change impacts, and the tax impact will get worse if Proposition 23 succeeds in killing efforts to protect the climate change.

Proposition 23 is telling the nation and the world to do nothing to stop the climate crisis

Texas oil companies are telling Californians that we’re too poor and weak to do anything about climate change, but also saying Proposition 23 is just about California’s actions. It’s not. While Proposition 23 will leave us poorer if it passes, the message it sends to the vast majority of the world that’s far poorer than us, is that they should ramp up their emissions also.

Please vote NO on Proposition 23, and please support efforts and candidates who assist the fight against dangerous climate change. It’s a local issue, it’s a global issue, and your vote makes a difference.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Working to improve Water District performance - from the files

(Below are comments I filed with the Water District in 2007 as part of my work on the District's 2006-2007 Performance Audit advisory committee. I'm repeating them here partly to document my involvement in that work, and partly because if elected, I hope to return to them and help improve the District's performance along the lines of the comments. -Brian)


The following are my comments on behalf of the Committee for Green Foothills regarding the Watershed Operations Audit Memorandum of the March 2007 Comprehensive Performance Audit Final Report prepared for the Water District.

(The following page references are to Appendix E of the Final Report.)

Page 2: fieldwork listed for the Watershed Operations Audit does not include interviews with outside stakeholders. I was interviewed by the auditors, primarily concerning watershed issues. My interview is listed elsewhere in the Audit, but I hope the omission here does not mean my interview was left out of consideration for the Watershed Memo. Some of my comments would have fallen into the category of “Opportunities for Improvement,” although I did not take notes when I was interviewed.

Page 4 and Page 18: Strength Finding No. 1, praising the Watershed Permit Management System, appears to conflict with Opportunity for Improvement Finding No. 6, stating the District “is not fully prepared for future permit-driven monitoring.” More explanation is needed as to why the current system will be inadequate, and if so, why the current system is not currently inadequate.

Page 6 and 7: Strength Finding No. 2, praising the “partner” relationship with the City of San Jose over Coyote Valley, is troubling. The District should be a neutral provider of information regarding environmental protection, water quality, water supply, and flood protection. If San Jose ultimately approves Coyote Valley development and the project goes forward, then a partner relationship could be appropriate, but right now this highly contentious project divides the people that the District works for – the voters of Santa Clara County. There are limits to the Baldrige business model when applied to governments, and this may be an example. At this point in time, the District should not be taking sides.

Page 8 and 9: as it appears that no one on the Clean Safe Creeks Independent Monitoring Committee was interviewed, I would like to know the basis the auditors have for concluding that the program is successful. I am not for my part stating it is successful or unsuccessful overall, and the parts I am familiar with appear to be successful, but am interested in what the basis is for this determination.

Page 11 and 12: the statement on p. 12, “the perception local agencies have of the District with respect to floodplain management probably does not match the services the District provides” is unclear as to what exactly is the problem. The worst-case scenario is that the District and the agencies both believe the other side has taken on a responsibility that it has not, and something is not being done that should be done. This needs to be clarified.

Page 15 and 16: The discussion of the Watershed Resources Protection Ordinance misses that this is primarily an environmental protection issue, and the possibility of damage to flood control structures is a secondary issue. It further misses the issue that the Environmental Advisory Committee made recommendations that were not incorporated into the final ordinance (as I understand it). The comparison between the recommendations and the final ordinance would have been a useful place for an outside auditor to determine whether performance could be improved. Issues such as whether the District gave up too much authority that it legally could have exercised to agencies that are unwilling to protect the environment could also have been discussed as part of a performance audit.

My suggestion is the District react to this report by clarifying its role as a neutral provider of information. The District should also clarify that it is allowed to take a policy position supporting or opposing major projects like Coyote Valley, and clarify when it is acting as a “partner” and when it is acting as an expert agency.

I further suggest that any monitoring program tracking overall mitigation required of the district, also track when the District is supposed to be consulted by others. Many land use agencies, for example, will issue conditions to permits requiring landowners to consult with the District before proceeding with certain actions. While compliance in these cases is not the District’s responsibility, it would be very useful to have a single place to go to try and track down when consultation is required.

Please contact me with any questions.


Brian Schmidt

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Putting Water District assets online, and on Google Earth

Something that I've mentioned before and wanted to document here as an important additional step for Water District transparency is to make it possible to find online all of the property that the Water District owns. All the property, all the buildings, all the infrastructure, and all the easements should be available online for the public to know about.

Making it available on the District website is a good idea, but in addition it should be viewable in some kind of mapping function. Google Earth could provide an excellent framework, where anyone could simply click a button, see what property the District owns in Santa Clara County, and then scan it in detail or click through for more information about a particular property.

I understand that a perfect mapping function onto Google Earth may be difficult, but to give a general idea of what the District owns and where shouldn't be too hard, and will help the public control and monitor what we all own together.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Water District term limits ballot: better, but not enough

I blogged a while back about the letter our campaign sent to the Water District (as far as I know, the only campaign to have submitted a comment) on the inadequate proposal for a four-term limit for Water District directors, to be placed on the ballot this November.

What came of the proposal was an improvement: three terms, and a requirement to sit out for four years before being allowed to start the clock again. That part is good, but they failed to make it retroactive, so directors who have been sitting on the Board for years/decades get an additional 12 years, which isn't a good way to inject fresh blood. As I said before, term limits have their problems and may have been misapplied elsewhere, but at the District, meaningful ones are needed.

At this point, I would vote for the ballot measure and work to get it corrected in the future, possibly through state legislation. That improves significantly upon the original proposal, which was worse than nothing. Still the lack of retroactivity is unfortunate, as is the basic decision to put this on the ballot: it should have simply been included in the legislation passed by the state on a nearly annual basis to regulate the District, saving the taxpayers 1.5 million dollars (page 2 at the link).


Update, 10/12/10: getting term limits through state legislation may not work, so we may have to look at other solutions.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

It's official! Ballot documents filed, and big endorsements rolling in

We turned in all the paperwork on Friday and we're confirmed for being on the ballot. At the same time some wonderful endorsements have been rolling in - Assemblyman Jim Beall, County Supervisor Liz Kniss, four Palo Alto Councilmembers, former mayor Peter Drekmeier, and two former Mountain View mayors. It's all here on the endorsement page, and I'm expecting we'll see more soon.

I've also been expanding the scope of people I've talked with to include people on the water supply side who interact with the Water District, in order to get a handle on different perspectives for the District's future.

I should also mention that one other person, Lou Becker, has also qualified for the Water District ballot. I've known Lou's been interested for a while. We put up our own campaign website over a month ago and I've occasionally checked to see if Lou's campaign has a website up, but I haven't seen it. If and when they get something up, then I'll be sure to provide a link.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

Attending the All Democratic Clubs Picnic, and boot camp for candidates

I went today to the annual picnic of all the Democratic Party clubs in Santa Clara County. Great place to meet many of the party leaders and elected leaders, and to talk them about our hopes for the Water District.

Spending a lot of time as well this weekend in planning out the campaign, so we'll be ready for the weeks ahead.

And the endorsement list continues to grow, with Walt Hays, Suzanne (Suzie) Wilson, Dianne McKenna, and Enid Pearson being some wonderful people who are supporting what we're trying to do.



Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mountain View General Plan heading the right way on water

I attended a community workshop today that's part of developing the revised General Plan for Mountain View.

They're doing good work on incorporating recycled water and emphasizing "green" stormwater techniques. I mentioned the need to use permeable pavement surfaces that allow rainwater to percolate through and into the ground instead of immediately flooding streams, and this is something I researched in my work at Committee for Green Foothills. I also brought up the value of low-water use landscaping and native plants to reduce water demand, and it seems like these will be part of the City's future. So far, so good!


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Letter from our campaign to the Water District on term limits

(Below is a letter we sent on Monday about the proposed term limits and why they were inadequate. The District eventually improved upon the original proposal, although not quite enough. We'll post about that later. -Brian)

July 26, 2010

Santa Clara Valley Water District

Board of Directors

Re: Proposed term limits are so unrestrictive that they are worse than doing nothing, and should be drastically altered

Dear Chair Santos and Members of the Board:

Term limits have some disadvantages. In conversations I have had with Board Directors, I've been impressed with the breadth of experience and passion for their community that came with the length of service. However, the need for democratic accountability, the value of fresh ideas, and the virtual impossibility of defeating an elected incumbent mean the advantages of term limits, of meaningful term limits, outweigh their disadvantages.

For these reasons I advocate term limits of two or three terms as part of my own campaign, and I pledge to serve only two terms myself. While the District is to be applauded for its current consideration of term limits, the terms suggested are not truly meaningful and would do more harm than good by forestalling efforts at adequate term limits.

First, four terms are too many. Sixteen years plus additional years in office before the term limits come into effect simply provides inadequate opportunities for contested elections like the one we are seeing now in the District 7 election. The length exceeds other terms of office, including the three term limit set for the County Board of Supervisors. Two terms or three terms constitute a meaningful restriction that should be applied.

Second, the limits fail to consider the terms served by sitting Directors, creating a situation where Directors who have already served for a decade or more could then be allowed to serve an additional sixteen years. If the Water District acknowledges that term limits should be imposed, then the argument for imposing them applies to sitting Directors and their terms served. I proposed that term limits should apply to anyone serving as Director beginning after the 2012 election, and should consider the previous terms. This would mean that all sitting Directors could participate in at least one more election (2010 or 2012) and serve one more complete term above and beyond the terms already served, while still ensuring meaningful restrictions apply to sitting Directors.

Third, the lack of a meaningful required absence period from the District board reduces the usefulness of term limits and opens the possibility of abuse. While the language of Section 1.B. states that District board members resigning after serving more than two years has served a full term, Section 1.C. overrules that by saying that any period of absence from the Board allows a Director to serve again. So a Director in the fourth year of the fourth term could resign right before the time to file for election and then file, because the language of Section 1.C. states the absence means the four terms "shall not disqualify" the candidate from serving. This problem could be fixed by clarifying in Section 1.C. that a Director who resigns after two years shall not be considered "absent" from the Board until after the conclusion of the Director's full term. This correction might solve one problem, but it is not enough.

There should be a required two-year absence from the Board, so the advantages of incumbency are given a real time period to diminish to an equal playing field, and the new voices on the Board have a chance to make a difference.

I hope the Board will consider these changes so that the proposed limits will have truly beneficial effects, instead of making meaningful limits harder to obtain.


Brian Schmidt

Brian Schmidt for Santa Clara Valley Water District 2010