A rush to run for water district

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The Santa Clara Valley Water District’s lone incumbent
– and relatively new appointee – Director Cy Mann’s reputation for stirring the pot continues just as the Nov. 2 election ramps up. Today is the final day to file candidate papers for the race.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District’s lone incumbent – and relatively new appointee – Director Cy Mann’s reputation for stirring the pot continues just as the Nov. 2 election ramps up. Today is the final day to file candidate papers for the race.

The water district has been entrenched in controversy, punctuated by several civil grand jury reports that claim the district has mismanaged its budget and board member’s motivations have been compromised by special interests.

In April, the redrawing of the county’s water districts unfolded into a gerrymandered, politically motivated move, orchestrated by the district and carried through by Mann, among others.

Earlier this week, it was reported Mann had not paid his water bill on time for eight years for his well on Hale Avenue and said he was not going to run. Mann said Wednesday that he is running, “and I’m running hard.”

That minor slip-up shouldn’t overshadow his competence as a director, Mann said Thursday.

“Does it affect my ability serve? It hasn’t since I’ve been on the board,” he said. Mann is a Realtor who owns a ranch in Morgan Hill and a home in San Jose and also operates a farming tractor company.

“My work speaks for itself, it hasn’t (prohibited) my ability to serve and it won’t. I still think I’m one of the stronger, one of the better working directors out there.”

His opponents for the seat are termed-out Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage, San Jose dentist Robert Sepulveda and Tom Kruse, a Gilroy vintner and District 1 supervisorial candidate. As of Thursday afternoon, Gage and Sepulveda had filed candidate papers, while Kruse and Mann had not.

The water district sells water wholesale to companies or cities, such as Morgan Hill, for distribution, while also acting as a flood protection agency. About 800 employees work for the district with the elected seven-member board of directors as the presiding stewards.

Since appointed by the board to replace retiring Sig Sanchez, Mann has done more for South County, he says, than any other director.

Mann assembled a comprehensive guide to district facilities and services in South County, something that hasn’t been available to the public before. He has been an advocate for more outreach, especially for well owners and high school students by pushing for committees that represent each group. He also traveled to Washington D.C. earlier this year to lobby for support and push for funding for the Upper Llagas Creek Flood Protection project.

Before he became more involved and more attune with water issues, Mann said he was “adamantly opposed to charging people for water out of our ground,” but since learning more about the district’s role, the importance of replenishing the groundwater is more clear.

His opponent, who he has butted heads with in the press, is Gage, who wields political power beyond name recognition.

Gage has served as Santa Clara County supervisor for 14 years, serving on committees that have directly effected South County, such as the widening of U.S. 101. He’s assigned to the South County Joint Planning Advisory Committee and also a liaison for the San Martin Planning Advisory Committee. Gage’s experience on Gilroy’s city council from 1981 to 1991 and as mayor for six years until 1997, put him years ahead when it comes to political experience, not to forget his 30 years in the private sector at IBM.

Gage said his knowledge of the innerworkings of government, as chair of the board of supervisors three times, is credence that he will serve the water district well.

“There are a lot of problems on that board associated with working together and having common goals,” Gage said. But he will be a voice of reason if elected; “I have what it takes,” Gage said.

A newcomer to the political minefield is Roberto Sepulveda, who has lived in the county since 1961.

“Get involved” is preached again and again, Sepulveda said. “I want to do something more for my community.”

Without any political experience and likewise any motivations that would muddy his intentions, Sepulveda said after attending the water district board meetings and talking to his neighbors, a different direction was needed.

“It seems to me, they need some change, some fresh blood and new ideas. I got tired about hearing the same people running over and over again. So I thought at least I can try, and see what’s going on,” he said.

Sepulveda, 59, said he’s just an everyday guy who would carry out the wishes of the people. He’s a dentist with his own private practice for 30 years in the Evergreen area of San Jose.

He values the small community feel even though District 1 is a large region with a range of concerns. Sepulveda doesn’t know much about water issues, doesn’t own a well or acres of property, and hasn’t been a part of district committees, but that’s his appeal, he said.

“I would stick with dealing with water and for the good of the city and the county of Santa Clara County,” Sepulveda said.

While Sepulveda has filed his necessary papers, meaning he’s an official candidate, vintner Tom Kruse, 71, is still musing over the prospect because campaigning will coincide with his busiest time at his winery in Gilroy.

Since 1971, Kruse has served in a number of officers’ positions on the Santa Clara Valley Winegrowers’ Association, including president. He has served on the Santa Clara County Planning Commission, the San Martin Citizens Advisory Planning Board, and the county architectural and site approval committee. He most recently made an unsuccessful bid for District 1 county supervisor, but did place ahead of Gilroy City Councilman Peter Arellano.

“I’ve always thought I can make a contribution to the water district, and you hear so many things over the years, let’s say suggestions, that they can be doing a better job. So I thought this is a first-hand opportunity to have a say in these matters,” Kruse said.

Kruse’s winery sits on two acres with one active well that he takes care of “the best way I know how,” adding that his time on the Llagas Basin nitrate study committee was an effective piece done by the district that educated well owners and farmers about reducing the amount of fertilizer in the best interest of the agriculture and the water.

“I make a living off of the land. I have always liked water … our well, well-drilling. It’s always been fascinating to me,” he said. Kruse reminisced briefly about digging a well as a young boy in Wisconsin; “I just thought that was so neat.”

The last day to final candidate papers and qualify is today, except for Morgan Hill city council in which the deadline is Aug. 11 since no incumbent is running. The final list of candidates for the water district, Morgan Hill Unified School Board of trustees and Morgan Hill mayor will be online Friday evening at www.morganhilltimes.com.

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