The race for three open seats on the board of directors of the San Lorenzo Valley Water District is shaping up as a contest between two, three-candidate slates- dubbed the “Incumbent Slate” vs. “Challenging Slate.” The Press Banner sat down with the “Incumbent Slate” of candidates- Chuck Baughman, Gene Ratcliffe, and newly appointed board member John Hayes for a wide-ranging conversation on what they have accomplished in the last four years, and what they hope to do in the next four years.
John Hayes, who served on the district’s Finance and Budget Committee for the last two and half years before his appointment to the board in June to fill Eric Hammer’s seat, sums up the “Incumbent Slate’s” accomplishments with a familiar metaphor.
“In terms of the district’s financial situation four years ago, and I don’t think people realize it and it went mostly unreported, is that we were sailing the Titanic…and we saw the iceberg coming and we managed to turn the ship to avoid it,” Hayes said.
According to district financial reports, the three-year drought, which reduced revenues by 27 percent due to mandatory conservation, combined with a spike in expenses for emergency repairs after the 2017 storm damage, created the “iceberg” that could have resulted in financial disaster. All three candidates, who served together on the district’s Budget and Finance Committee, take credit for turning the district around from a trajectory of exhausting the district’s reserves to putting the district on sound financial footing.
Hayes credits the board-directed “cost of service study” completed in 2016, subsequently coordinated with a customer “rate study” completed in early 2017 that provided the financial justification for the district’s rate increase, an average of a 37 percent rate increase approved by rate-payers last year. Hayes and the other candidates emphasize it was careful cost-cutting and financial management between 2015 and 2017, while simultaneously laying the groundwork for the critically necessary rate hike, that allowed the board to “engineer a soft landing out of a potentially disastrous financial situation,” Hayes said.
Gene Ratcliffe, 59, who has a B.S. in Geology and a Master’s from Cornell in Plant Science, says she has always been a “water person, always interested in how we get our water.” Before her term on the SLVWD board beginning in 2014, Radcliffe served as a Planning Commissioner in San Juan Capistrano and engaged in several years of community education about water conservation in many forums. “We’ve built a lot of momentum, and I’m anxious to keep going with the projects we’ve initiated”, Radcliffe said.
Chuck Baughman, 64, who has an undergraduate degree in physics and another B.A. in chemistry and math, decided against a career as a professor of theoretical physics while in a Ph.D. program at Stanford, and settled into a career in electrical engineering, from which he is now retired.
Baughman emphasizes the importance of the district’s participation with the Santa Margarita Groundwater Management Agency (SMGMA), for which he serves as vice chair on the board of directors. Long-range, Baughman considers the groundwater sustainability plan that SMGMA is state-mandated to complete by 2022 as one of the most important projects of the “Incumbent Board”. The plan is required to show how the Santa Margarita aquifer, with various projects in cooperation with the SLVWD and the Scotts Valley Water District, will achieve sustainability by 2040.
“We’re setting up a structure for managing our aquifer that’s going to address our issues much longer than any of the capital improvements we are now putting in place,” Baughman said. “I want to see that plan through---and, for the rest of my life, watch how well the sustainability plan works,” Baughman added.
John Hayes, 59, studied chemistry at GrinnellCollege in Iowa and currently works as a finance manager for Hewlett Packard, helping with the financing of technology related projects. As an unpaid volunteer on the Budget & Finance Committee beginning early in 2016, working with Ratcliffe and Baughman, Hayes said he is most proud of ending the Lompico surcharge three and half years early, saving Lompico ratepayers a total of $164,000, or about $330 per household. That was in addition to the overall “financial re-set” that put the district on a financially firm foundation that now allows the funding of capital improvement projects, long in the planning and set-up stages, that were delayed by the storm damage projects.
With regard to the lawsuits pending against the district, the candidates noted they were limited in what they could say, but were unanimous in their desire to bring them to bring them to an end. Early in their term, after a competitive selection process, Baughman and Ratcliffe supported replacing the district’s legal representation. “If the district had as good legal advice in 2010 as we have now, these lawsuits probably wouldn’t have happened,” Baughman said.
From working together putting the district’s financial house in order, the “Incumbent Slate” emphasizes their ability to collaborate and work together, and, despite differences they may have on policy details, they believe they have a proven track record of complementing each other’s skills. “I get excited about the environmental policies, John gets excited about the financing, and Chuck gets excited about the engineering details,” said Radcliffe.
“We are an environmentally oriented triplet ….I think we have a stronger commitment to environmental protection than maybe others who are running for the board,” Baughman said. “I want to see us handle our aquifer in a way that is sustainable well into the future, and not just the bare minimum, through the SMGMA process,” Baughman said.
All three candidates want to bring more community involvement and support into board discussions and decisions than the board has had in the past. All three candidates of the “Incumbent Slate” expressed different ideas on community outreach and watershed education, including publicized workshops, events and moving the location of board meetings closer to where some rate payers live.
According to Radcliffe, one of the key ways to get people to support the work of the district is to show capital improvement projects, like water tank and water main pipe replacement, are actually getting done. “Now that we have our finances in order, and we actually have the money to do them, there’s nothing to stop us from getting them done,” Radcliffe said.
(An interview with the “Challenging Slate” for the SLVWD Board was published by the Press Banner on June 22, 2018)