Plenty of variety in water district board race

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The election of South County’s sole representative on the Santa
Clara Valley Water District board of directors pins a longtime
politician who knows most of Gilroy against a vintner who knows the
lay of the land and a San Jose dentist who wants to give back to
his community.
The election of South County’s sole representative on the Santa Clara Valley Water District board of directors pins a longtime politician who knows most of Gilroy against a vintner who knows the lay of the land and a San Jose dentist who wants to give back to his community.

The Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy region has historically had two representatives on the board, an appointed South County director and elected representative. But, following a new law passed in 2009, the county’s district lines were redrawn so all seven directors are now elected positions.

The candidates are Don Gage, a Santa Clara County supervisor for the past 14 years; Tom Kruse, a Gilroy vintner and former county supervisor candidate; and San Jose dentist Roberto Sepulveda, who has no political experience.

Rosemary Kamei and Cy Mann currently represent South County and will not seek another term. Mann, who was appointed in February, is running for a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education.

The water district sells water wholesale to companies, cities or individual well owners for distribution, while also acting as a flood protection agency and steward for its streams, creeks, underground aquifers and reservoirs. About 800 employees work for the district with a current budget of about $305 million annually. The district has been the subject of a Santa Clara County grand jury report that criticized the water district for overspending, poor financial management and that it lacks oversight, transparency and accountability.

Gage, 65, began his first stint as an elected public servant on Gilroy’s City Council from 1981 to 1991. He was the mayor of Gilroy for six years until 1997. Prior to his political career, Gage worked 30 years at IBM.

Gage said his knowledge of government, he was the chair of the board of supervisors three times, is credence 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.

He listed his priorities as balancing the budget at the water district, creating transparency and restoring public trust.

Kruse, 71, has spent decades learning water systems. Since 1971, has served in a number of officers’ positions on the Santa Clara Valley Wine Growers 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.

“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 has said his goals if elected are to keep creeks healthy and restoring them to their natural state when possible; providing clean, safe, potable water to all residents; and managing district funds in a responsible way while keeping constituents informed.

Kruse’s winery sits on two acres with one active well that he takes care of “the best way I know how.”

A newcomer to campaigning is Sepulveda, who has a private dentistry in San Jose – his home since 1961.

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

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 listed his priorities as providing safe and reliable water, natural flood protection and maintaining healthy ecosystems.

“It’s our community and we all have to contribute to it,” Sepulveda said.

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