This evening, I went to a public meeting in Alviso, about a proposal to modify the Educational Center that the Santa Clara Valley Water District has promised to build there. The original proposal called for a dedicated structure, bathrooms and landscaping on Gold Street, which happens to be just next to property owned by the family of Director Richard Santos. Said property would, of course, benefit from landscaping and amenities provided by a public agency. But after six years of study and planning, District staff came up with a cheaper alternative that would provide an open structure and signage at the existing County Park, the marina.

The SCVWD already has the Coyote Outdoor Classroom, which is not a well-used facility. In fact, this proposal called for the District to move the existing pergola from Coyote Creek to Alviso, abandoning the previous site. But the District’s history with educational sites was not questioned this evening. At every public meeting I’ve attended in Alviso, there is a palpable atmosphere of resentment, with speakers demanding that the District make up for all the years of mistreatment that Alviso has suffered. This site is clearly meant to benefit only Alviso, with only the local schools mentioned as future beneficiaries of its presence. No mention of how the District was going to support lesson plans, or of tying the interpretation at the site into the curriculum or state standards for every grade. The attitude of every speaker was if you build it, they will come, and that Alviso deserves it. And only an expensive, brand-new facility, built at the original site, will do. Any changes are a betrayal of Alviso. It remains to be seen what the Board will do.

And, coincidentally, I am quoted as a “frequent water district watchdog” in Paul Rogers’ article about AB466, which Governor Schwarzenegger signed today.

Diana Foss of Willow Glen, said the reforms are a good start. But she said to attract more, and top-quality, candidates to run for the seats, the agency should pay board members a full-time salary, like county supervisors.
“I don’t know if this law will restore public trust,’ she said. “There’s a lot of public apathy. But the district’s work is too important to be left to a part-time board.”

Of all the things I said to Paul this afternoon, this was the mildest. Although I can’t argue against the reforms that Joe Coto has forced on the SCVWD Board, the reason for this law is to let Tony Estremera keep his seat. Assemblyman Coto did not wake up one morning and decide to rein in the SCVWD. The Board came to him and asked him to carry a new District Act, after Ira Ruskin dropped the previous attempt last year. Coto agreed, with the condition that the Board accept some changes in the way they do business, and the changes:

  • Board members are banned from seeking employment at the district until at least one year after they leave office.
  • All travel by board members must be approved in public meetings.
  • Agendas and staff reports must be made public no later than six days before a regular meeting of the board.
  • Annual public hearings must be held on the district’s financial reserves; and written summaries of the board’s closed session meetings must be regularly issued.
  • Lobbyists working with the agency must register and board members must disclose contacts with board members.
  • Board members are banned from contacting staff members on behalf of any party bidding for district contracts.

to me don’t really compensate for changing state law just to let one director save his seat on the Board.