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American River Messenger

San Juan Water District Should Stop Delaying its Move to District Elections

May 07, 2020 12:00AM ● By Commentary by Ray Riehle and Gary Page

Gary Page, President of Fair Oaks Water District. Photo: Regional Government Services

Rate payers from the Citrus Heights and Fair Oaks Water Districts represent over 60% of the San Juan Water District’s wholesale water service connections; however, four of the San Juan Water District Board’s five members are from the community of Granite Bay - where over 70% of households have income of more than $100,000 annually with an average household income of $145,000.  Compare that to the more racially diverse communities of Citrus Heights with $54,000 and Fair Oaks with $75,000 average annual income.  Our customers are NOT being well-served by this imbalance which is the point of the California Voters Right Act.

On March 30, 2020, the San Juan Water District (SJWD) received a letter from attorney Kevin Shenkman threatening a lawsuit alleging that the District’s at-large elections violated the California Voting Right Act passed in 2001. The law protects against voting systems that limit minority and disadvantaged population’s political voices and seeks to allow more representatives of their choice.  SJWD has known about potential litigation and ignored it for over a year. 

On February 8, 2019, the SJWD Legal Affairs Committee, and on September 25, 2019 the full SJWD Board, discussed the District’s vulnerability to a claim, and the likely requirement to pay at least the $30,000 in fees provided for in AB 350.  Despite these clear warnings from SJWD staff, the Board declined to start the process.   

At its April 15th Special Meeting, SJWD staff presented scenarios for transitioning to “by district” elections for the 2020 election or waiting for transitioning until the 2022 election.  SJWD staff indicated that the cost of transitioning now would result in substantial cost savings in legal fees and transition costs.  These savings could exceed $50,000 to the wholesale agency.  In fact, based on these cost savings, an initial motion was made and seconded to complete the process for the 2020 election.  Oddly, a substitute motion was made and approved by a 3-2 vote (Board Members Ted Costa, Ken Miller and Pam Tobin in favor, and Marty Hanneman and Dan Rich against) to delay compliance until 2022. At its April 22nd Special Meeting, the Board opted to delay its decision again to a special meeting in May. This decision compounds the lack of action from 2019 and increases costs by at least an additional $50,000.  These cost increases will occur during this period of significant economic disruption, negatively affecting our ratepayers. 

District-wide at-large elections tend to produce Boards that fail to represent all neighborhoods, particularly disadvantaged ones. This is certainly the case with the SJWD. The communities of Citrus Heights and Fair Oaks have been historically underrepresented on the wholesale SJWD Board, and our customers have been directly and significantly impacted by the Board’s decisions regarding cost allocation, water supply, and operational considerations.  

Both the Citrus Heights and the Fair Oaks Water Districts are moving to district-based election in 2020, and have recently adopted resolutions committing to assist SJWD in 2020 as it moves through this process.  Together, we can ensure a robust public outreach process.  There is no impediment to conducting timely and meaningful public outreach in spite of new meeting protocols due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, many agencies have been able to complete the outreach process in six to eight weeks. Agencies throughout the State and the Country have successfully shifted to online and mail-based outreach to continue serving their constituencies. 

We urge the SJWD Board to move toward compliance with the CVRA for the 2020 elections cycle.  There is no excuse for delay, and we urge our ratepayers to contact the Board via its website at, phone (916) 791-0115, email the SJWD’s Board Secretary Teri Grant at [email protected] and/or attend its special meeting on Wednesday, May 13th at 6:00 PM via GoToMeeting and demand compliance in 2020.