By Raiza Giorgi
The agency that provides water to Santa Ynez residential, commercial and agricultural customers is scheduled to appoint a board member at a special meeting that begins at 6 p.m. today, May 23.
The Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District No. 1 (ID1), is set to appoint a replacement for former trustee Kevin Walsh, who resigned after taking the job as general manager of ID1’s parent agency, the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, after the retirement of Bruce Wales.
The Santa Ynez Valley Star has questioned the appointment process after a contentious election last fall, when ID1 tried to remove two candidates from the ballot who didn’t own property in the district.
The Santa Barbara County Elections Division denied ID1’s attempt, and ID1 filed a complaint with the elections office. The county rejected that complaint on April 29.
Joseph Holland, the county clerk-recorder-assessor, restored candidates Brian Schultz and Anita Finifrock to the November 2018 ballot, citing a California Attorney General’s opinion that “concluded that the application of a property owner requirement to a particular district involved substantial questions of fact and law and was subject to judicial resolution after the election.”
ID 1 claims that “For purposes of this appointment, Water Code section 75166.2 states that each Trustee must be a registered voter and holder of title to land in Division 3 of ID No.1. Applicants previously convicted of certain felony crimes may not be eligible to hold public office in California.”
However, County Elections guidelines say that holding office in a special district requires only that the applicant 18 or older, not convicted of a crime or convicted of a felony in which bribes or embezzlement of public monies are concerned. Furthermore, related specifically to water districts, including ID1, the county code states, “Each director (or trustee) shall be an elector of the division for which he or she is elected, a qualified elector of the district, and a resident of the county, or one of the counties, in which the district is situated.”
“ID1’s ‘holder of title or land’ rule is archaic and doesn’t override the California Constitution,” attorney Phillip Seymour said during the election argument last fall. “Those rules might apply for a private water district, but not a public entity like ID1. They aren’t a water district. They are an improvement district. It says so in their name.”
Two applicants will be considered at the meeting, according to ID1’s agenda: hydrogeologist Steve Cullen and self-employed writer Lori Parker. Both candidates reside and are landowners within the district, according to their applications.
The Star has made multiple attempts to clarify whether anyone else applied, and whether their applications were rejected because they weren’t land owners.
Multiple calls to ID1 legal representative Paeter Garcia, who is also interim general manager while General Manager Chris Dahlstrom recovers from a heart attack, were not returned.
Holland’s office respond they are not able to comment because of the pending litigation.
Schultz, one of the unsuccessful candidates for election in November, said that he didn’t try to apply for the appointment because, he said, ID1 has made clear to him it not consider his name as he only is a renter in the district. He maintains that the district’s actions are a violation of his civil rights.
“Since the county and ID1 are still battling over the issue of the election last fall, the matter isn’t settled and therefore I wouldn’t be considered. What really has bothered me is the overreaching of ID1 by using taxpayer dollars to not only send their legal team after me but they also hired a private investigator to follow me around the valley and verify that I lived where I said I did. That is not okay with me,” Schultz said.
The ID1 Board of Trustees consists of five representatives, four of whom are elected by division and one of whom is elected at-large. The person appointed to fill the current vacancy will serve until a new Division 3 trustee is elected in November 2020.
For more information about the district, go to www.syrwd.org, call 805-688-6015, or visit the district office at 3622 Sagunto St. in Santa Ynez.