With two members not running for re-election, voters will have a chance to change the make-up of the board of the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District in November. President Tom Hoffman and board member Dan Parises have chosen not to seek their respective seats, meaning the five-member board will have at least two new faces in the near future.
Seats in four of the district’s five divisions are up for election, and the candidates are a mixture of incumbents, familiar faces and concerned citizens.
Residents of the district can vote in the election, but they can only cast a ballot for the candidates who live in their specific division.
The News-Sentinel has compiled candidate information based on their plans discussed at public forums and through news archives.
Mark Beck, farmer/rancher: Beck was appointed to the board in 2009 and said he is determined to help the district keep its 20,000 acre-foot allocation of wet-year water. Beck acknowledges the district has serious shortcomings regarding its infrastructure and ability to deliver water due to its lack of financial flexibility. Beck was a proponent of Measure C, a ballot measure in the mid-term elections that would have enabled the district to enact a fee for its users who pump groundwater.
Since the public overwhelmingly rejected the measure, Beck said the district must look for other methods to raise money to pay for necessary district projects and maintenance.
“We have to revamp and look for relationships with East Bay Municipal Utilities District, the Groundwater Banking Authority and look for other ways to build funds,” he said. “We have to maintain water right and we can’t function without fiscal solvency; we can’t operate without money.”
Martin Church, computer superintendent/rancher: A veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, Church has served his country and said he would bring his values of integrity and honesty to the district if elected.
He has experience with complex projects, and was a team leader of a project that converted hurricane tracking equipment from an obsolete format to the modern global positioning system.
Church is opposed to any taxes on water, water meters and shipping water outside of the district’s borders.
“I’ll demand the district operate within its budget,” he said.
The district is fighting a losing battle regarding its public perception, and Church said he would represent the people honorably and fight for their rights.
Roberto Martinez, quality assurance inspector: A member of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Martinez is strongly opposed to any potential tax on district residents and wants to hold board meetings in the evening so more people can attend them.
The district receives roughly $225,000 from residents’ property taxes to help the district function, Martinez said. And while current district members argue that’s barely enough to keep lights on and provide the most minimal service, Martinez disagrees and said he would look to review the district’s spending habits if elected.
“We’ll see where we can trim fat,” he said.
He is against selling district water to Stockton and requiring well owners to install water meters on their property.
Joe Petersen, agricultural businessman/farmer: Petersen has done extensive irrigation work for the Lodi District Grape Growers Association and is a program director for the San Joaquin Farm Bureau. If elected, he will look for the best solution rather than the easiest, he said.
The biggest problem plaguing the district is that it does not have a set annual water supply.
“We get water when EBMUD feels like it,” he said.
Petersen wants to address this by focusing on growers near district pipelines. Selling to them regularly will help fill the district’s coffers and build a stable foundation for the future, he said.
He is in favor of selling some of the district’s water to neighboring cities and agencies on a short-term basis to generate revenue for the district as well. Petersen said he would look to obtain federal grants to pay for updates to the district’s infrastructure and new projects.
James Souther, walnut grower/businessman: A regular attendant at board meetings, Souther sat on the district’s advisory committee and said he is tired of the lack of civility between the public and the board. He wants to restore respect to the process. The district needs to change the way it operates and past mistakes must be learned from, he said.
A former scientist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Souther has designed pumps, dams and irrigation systems around the globe.
Souther is not opposed to taxes as long as a tangible service is given, he said.
“People won’t complain about paying for services received,” he said.
One of the biggest issues plaguing the district is a lack of communication, he said. The board has not done a good job of addressing the public’s concerns, and he wants to use the district’s website and social media to improve communication between the district and its members.
Robb Hoag, general engineering contractor: Hoag became personally invested in water issues when, several decades ago, he turned on his faucet and nothing came out. Hoag served on the district’s advisory committee and said his perception of the district changed greatly because of that experience.
He was initially distrustful of the district but said progress has been made and the district needs to continue working to inform the public.
Hoag supported Measure C because it was a proportional payment based on how much groundwater each grower pumped, he said.
His biggest goal is to save the district’s 20,000 acre-foot allocation of wet-year water and said it could be possible to do without taxes. However, Hoag didn’t rule out the possibility of a water tax. One of the biggest challenges, to Hoag, is getting people to understand the seriousness of the issue facing the community.
He wants to put water into Bear Creek, so that it can be used by nearby growers and naturally re-enter the area’s groundwater basin.
“I think we can do this with no taxes; however, I’m not making any promises,” he said.
Hugh Scanlon, retired fire captain: An outspoken critic of the district, Scanlon is running on an anti-tax platform. He wants to bring transparency and integrity to the board, he said. He is against any tax on well owners in the district and wants to hold meetings in the evening to help more residents attend.
“I want to be the voice of the people,” he said.
Since homeowners cannot receive potable water from the district, they should not be taxed to support programs that don’t serve them, he said.
The programs the district have supported in the past have been unsuccessful and the district’s basic operation need to be addressed.
Residents of the district often feel left in the dark on issues, he said. He would bring transparency to the board if elected, he said.
He believes that the water landowners have on their property belongs to them and they should use it as they see fit.
Joseph Mehrten, rancher/businessman: Like Beck, Mehrten is a current board member seeking re-election. Mehrten wants to increase the amount of water the district uses by tapping the Mokelumne River and depositing the water into collecting ponds so the district can use it during the dry years it doesn’t receive its allocation from EBMUD.
Part of the district’s problem is its broken infrastructure, Mehrten said. Some of the pipes are so deteriorated they are leaking and cannot be used because they would leak and damage crops on adjacent farms, he said.
Keeping local control of the area’s water is one Merhten’s biggest goals. To do that, the public must be informed of the issues and the severity of the consequences if nothing is done, he said. He encouraged district residents to talk to their neighbors and said communication and outreach from the district could go a long way to right the ship.
However, he said there are people who will just try to drag the board down and no amount of goodwill from the district will change that.
“There are people who don’t want this district to succeed,” he said.
Marden Wilber, rancher: Wilber served as a director for the San Joaquin County Resource Conservation District and was an ad hoc member for the Lower Mokelumne River Watershed Stewardship Planning Committee. He is running on an anti-tax platform and is against selling water to Stockton.
“We need to keep the water in our neighborhood,” he said.
He was against the district’s original push for a fee to pump groundwater and Measure C. The district never took the proper steps to educate the public about the fees it was trying to push through, he said. If elected, Wilber said he would fight for transparency in the district and oppose any potential taxes on groundwater pumping.
He is opposed to having well owners place a meter on their pumps and wants to review the district’s spending habits to see where potential cutbacks could be made.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at email@example.com.