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Editorial

Clear choices for Soquel Creek water board

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 10/10/14

Political slates are a tricky business. They can distinguish shared philosophies among candidates in a crowded field. But they can also lump together strong candidates with weaker ones.

It's the latter problem we see in the race for three seats on the Soquel Creek Water District board of directors, where a pair of incumbents have joined forces to face a slate of three challengers.

We are not fully enamored with either slate; our choices take candidates from both. We recommend voters elect challengers Doug Deaver and Bill McGowan and incumbent Bruce Jaffe.

The water situation on the Mid-Coast is messy, practically and politically.

The area's main water source is an underground basin, and more water is being pumped from it than is being replenished naturally. The overdraft is a serious problem and the board has yet to decide how to solve it. A plan to pursue a desalination plant with the city of Santa Cruz has been shelved and other ways to supplement supply are being weighed. Meanwhile, the board has started an aggressive conservation program, and has adopted a rate structure that has left its customers with some of the highest water bills in the county.

The board itself is politically divided. Directors on a split vote declared a groundwater emergency earlier this year — against the advice of county officials — which set the stage for the higher rates. But a hotly debated moratorium on new connections was smartly rejected, also on a split vote.

That sets the stage for the election.

Incumbents Jaffe and Rick Meyer are running as a slate. (A third director is not seeking re-election.) The two depict themselves as careful thinkers who favor "sensible conservation," a new water supply and "new development paying its own way," though we're not sure exactly what that means. They say the board is on the right track. They paint their opponents, unfairly we think, as tools of developers.

Running in opposition are Deaver, McGowan and John Prentice. They paint the board as tone-deaf to customers, and wrongly ratcheting up rates and increasing the budget to pay for an overly aggressive conservation program while moving no closer to a permanent solution. They say they want a sustainable yet affordable water supply, and they want customers to be heard.

A mix of the most reasonable voices from the two slates would be best for the board. The district needs members who listen to customers, listen to staff and can move forward in the quest for a solution to the water problem.

We like Jaffe's scientific background. The oceanographer joined the board 12 years ago, and has been a strong voice for a sustainable, environmentally smart solution to the supply problem. He's been a swing vote who judges proposals on their own merits.

Deaver, a recently retired Cabrillo College facilities official, comes off as smart and level-headed, and has 40 years of experience managing projects and working within a budget. He also has a record of community involvement.

McGowan is a project manager for Granite Construction who has experience with larger public works projects, including a desalination plant, which would be a valuable skill on a board that has public works projects in its future.

Why not Meyer? We remain troubled by the series of emails Meyer sent on a district account after the moratorium vote, voicing support for a moratorium and going as far as to suggest a lawsuit against the district might swing a colleague's vote about a future moratorium on development. He's since said that he no longer feels that way, but the whole episode feels like a violation of public trust.

Prentice, a local businessman, has been the voice of the ratepayer during the campaign. We're glad he represented that point of view but we don't see him as a collaborative voice on the board.

Also actively running for seats are Maria Marsilio, an HR professional, and Shellie Roy, a former government official from Colorado, but neither has clearly articulated a vision for the district's future. Carla Christensen, a retired environmental scientist, and John Hughes, a retired newspaper executive, also are running.

We believe Deaver, McGowan and Jaffe deserve your votes.

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