South County airs water worries


The voters of Morgan Hill and Gilroy will likely remain together
when the water district board of directors forms new representation
boundaries. However, ensuring South County will always be
represented is not so certain.
The voters of Morgan Hill and Gilroy will likely remain together when the water district board of directors forms new representation boundaries. However, ensuring South County will always be represented is not so certain.

That was part of the discussion at a meeting of the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s redistricting advisory committee in Morgan Hill Tuesday.

The committee, made up of citizens appointed by the board from throughout the county, will use public comments gathered at a series of community meetings to make a recommendation to the directors before May. The committee and directors are tasked with forming seven new election districts as part of state legislation signed by the governor last year. Voters in each district will elect their representative to serve as a director every four years.

In response to comments presented by city officials and members of the public at Tuesday’s meeting, the committee voted to withdraw two proposed maps of the county depicting different options for the new districts. One of those would have divided Morgan Hill and Gilroy into separate districts.

The committee presented 11 different maps showing possible new districts, which they posted around the meeting room at the Morgan Hill Community and Cultural Center.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage was not at Tuesday’s meeting, but he expects the roughly 100,000 residents of South County to have a say on the board.

“I intend on running (for water district director in November) but I don’t know if they can be guaranteed anything in the future,” said Gage, a Gilroy resident. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

The Morgan Hill city council is concerned that the new South County district, or District 1, will include urban areas to the north such as parts of San Jose and Los Gatos, potentially watering down their representation. There is no way around federal election laws and the U.S. Supreme Court which say representation districts in all government bodies have to be equal in population, committee members said.

City Manager Ed Tewes told the committee Tuesday that the council has two chief concerns.

“In (the new) district, Gilroy and Morgan Hill should not be separated, because you are compelled to accept communities of interest,” Tewes said. Plus, the city does not want the South County district to be dominated by another community in the north.

The redistricting committee has to rely on 2000 Census data to draw the new boundaries. Each new district has to have 240,000 people, within a 5 percent deviation based on the Census information.

The water district can also consider keeping “communities of interest” together as long as they adhere to the population requirements. Committee member Bill Baron explained such communities can be based on common cultural or ethnic identity, income demographics, geographical characteristics and water needs.

Differences in the proposed new boundary maps reflected consideration of different communities of interest, including the sprawling San Jose City Council districts.

Public comments at the meeting indicated that South County’s water concerns are unique because it is the only part of the county where agriculture is a significant part of the economy, the region has its own aquifer, it contains most of the county’s reservoirs and wells, and there are no treatment plants there.

“What might make sense to San Jose could be devastating to Morgan Hill and South County,” city Councilmember Marby Lee told the committee.

Morgan Hill resident Swanee Edwards added that the city is unique because it is the only downtown area in the county that floods on a regular basis. Part of the water district’s mission is to provide flood protection.

The committee studied the possibility of forming new districts based on common watersheds and floodplains in different parts of the county, but such boundaries would not meet the population requirements, according to committee member Roland Velasco.

“At the end of the day, it all comes back to a number. Gilroy, Morgan Hill and San Martin only have about 100,000 people,” Velasco said.

Furthermore, redistricting consultant Douglas Johnson said the purpose of the districts is solely electoral, and not to provide geographical or geological congruity.

The federal government is currently in the process of completing the 2010 Census, which will require another redistricting process next year, committee members explained. The county’s population is expected to rise to about 1.9 million when the new Census is completed.

Director Rosemary Kamei said she was pleased by the high turnout at Tuesday’s meeting, which drew about a 40-member audience. She encouraged voters to submit their own redistricting proposals by using maps and population data available at the water district’s Web site,

“I am most interested in seeing the maps that people submit,” Kamei said.

The water district is currently divided into five electoral districts that are identical to those of the board of supervisors. The seven-member board represented by one director from each district, plus two who are appointed by the supervisors.

The redistricting effort is required by a state law sponsored by Assemblymember Joe Coto (D, San Jose), which includes a number of rules related to how the board governs itself.

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