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.