Editorial: Figuers, Ramirez Holmes and Thiel for Zone 7 board | News | PleasantonWeekly.com |


Editorial: Figuers, Ramirez Holmes and Thiel for Zone 7 board


In the Zone 7 Water Agency Board of Directors election, we endorse incumbents Sandy Figuers and Angela Ramirez Holmes and challenger Eric Thiel.

The board makes important financial, policy and administrative decisions, such as project budgets, contract approval and water rates for the agency that sells water wholesale to the cities of Pleasanton and Livermore, Dublin San Ramon Services District and Cal Water's Livermore division.

The agency is also in charge of flood control, regional water supply and balancing residential, commercial and environmental needs.

Before casting your ballot, it's important to understand key background information. The past few years have been challenging for Zone 7's board.

The drought had an intense impact on the agency's finances, cutting the amount of revenue coming in because the region's successful water conservation efforts meant Zone 7 was selling less water.

The board also attempted to avoid raising rates post-recession to help out municipalities, a move which several board members admitted had made the short-term easier while endangering the district's long-term viability.

As a result, after a series of layoffs, hiring freezes and years of delaying construction projects, the board passed a rate increase last year -- 28% for 2016 and an additional 10% in 2017, which include temporary drought surcharges -- that was contested by some residents and municipalities.

Tensions around transparency also permeated for Zone 7 in recent years, and the board decided late last year to pay to have its meetings broadcast on Tri-Valley Community Television's website like other agencies, such as Pleasanton's city council and school board.

Incumbent Sandy Figuers' geological knowledge is unmatched on the ballot, a specialty that is essential when considering management of the regional underground aquifer. He has almost 20 years of experience on the board, runs his own geological engineering firm and has a Ph.D in geology.

In addition to his institutional knowledge of the agency, Figuers approaches tough problems with empathy for community members on both sides of a given issue.

During the public comment session at a Zone 7 meeting where dozens of constituents asked the board not to vote to lend support to the state's controversial California WaterFix plan, Figuers stopped the regular flow of the meeting.

He wanted to "have a discussion" with the audience, vowing to stay as late as necessary to understand all views in the room. While that idea may not have been the most practical -- and the board ended up deciding to wait before it voted on the issue anyway -- it showed his respect for his community members and his relentless commitment to understanding other points of view.

Incumbent Angela Ramirez Holmes is an outspoken member of the board, and she often challenges seemingly routine items to make sure every expense is justified.

While the rate increase was the board's effort to catch the agency up to a safe financial state, she voted against it, saying she didn't support the idea that the majority of the money raised from the rate increase would be saved up for capital improvement projects that had been delayed over the recession.

She said such a drastic increase at once wasn't fair to retailers, and a 10% increase over several years could have been a better approach.

Ramirez Holmes isn't afraid to challenge other board members, and her knowledge of the political industry gives her a larger view of Zone 7's place in statewide debates. She has also emphasized transparency, once getting a discussion topic delayed because it was improperly listed on the agenda under public meeting requirements.

Challenger Eric Thiel will provide a fresh voice and valuable environmental perspective that is largely missing from the board.

As an Amador Valley biology teacher and a UC Berkeley instructor, Thiel has been monitoring Lake Del Valle for several decades. He's seen that ecosystem change with drought, pollution and due to a lack of water discharge from agencies such as Zone 7.

Water retailers' interests and the interests of vineyards are well-represented on the board, but there are times when board president Sarah Palmer is the only voice for discharging water to maintain aquatic habitats. Since environmental protection is also an important consideration, and part of Zone 7's charge, the board needs another strong voice for our streams, lakes, fish, birds and amphibians.

Thiel is also an expert in public education, and the board is going to benefit from someone who knows how to explain complex, sometimes bureaucratic, topics clearly if it is going to discuss with residents topics such as the California WaterFix, purified recycled water or aggressive conservation.

Incumbent Dick Quigley, who is seeking re-election to a third term, has worked hard on the board, serving in numerous capacities including as the agency's representative to the Association of California Water Agencies. He would be our next choice if a fourth seat were available. But Quigley appears to lack a focus on public engagement, something the board desperately needs to improve upon -- an improvement we believe Thiel will provide.

We also think the remaining candidates, challengers Alfred Exner, Victor Karpenko and Jacqueline Williams-Courtright, each have experience in niche aspects that could benefit the board, but they lack the big-picture understanding of the region's water needs and the authoritative voice necessary on such a governing body.

We prefer Sandy Figuers, Angela Ramirez Holmes and Eric Thiel.

Pleasanton Weekly staff.

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10 people like this
Posted by Christina Nystrom Mantha
a resident of Walnut Grove Elementary School
on May 20, 2016 at 3:23 pm

I emphatically support Eric Thiel. I am thrilled that he has received the Pleasanton Weekly endorsement. After decades of educating our kids about our local ecosystem, and teaching them how to be good environmental citizens, I am confident that he will be a reasoned voice on the Zone 7 board.

13 people like this
Posted by Robin Hood
a resident of Livermore
on May 20, 2016 at 3:43 pm

I am pleased the Pleasanton Weekly has endorsed Angela Ramirez Holmes. Director Holmes and Director Jim McGrail are the only current Board Members that represent the best interests of the community. Other Directors have been on the Board far to long and it is time for some fresh perspective. The Zone 7 Board should always represent the community and allow transparency to the general public. The current Board majority just follows the General Manager's recommendation without any serious questioning. My vote will be going to Director Holmes for her leadership and desire to do what is best for the Tri Valley.

9 people like this
Posted by Zone 7 needs Al Exner
a resident of Ironwood
on May 21, 2016 at 8:15 am

Zone 7 has functioned with numerous geologists and scientists but they have NO ONE that understands finance on their board.

With water rates soaring (over 30% rise due to budget losses during the drought) and no one watching the books, it is time to put a person with a financial background in place on this 7 person board (okay that is another problem - 7 people are needed for the Water board?). Someone needs to look at reduction of costs - have you seen the mammoth sized building in Livermore with only a handful of employees? Typical bloated government. Jeesh.

I intend to vote for Al Exner, a great asset for Zone 7 board but he needs your vote before they raise the rates again.

8 people like this
Posted by Cheryl Hunter
a resident of Walnut Hills
on May 22, 2016 at 4:38 pm

I have known Eric Thiel for 30+ years, as he was my high school biology teacher and is now continuing his wonderful work in Pleasanton where I have been a resident for over 20 years. I have actually 'ran' into him with my kids out on the waterways of Pleasanton while he was doing field trips with his Amador Biology students. I know he has what it takes to be the right person for a position on the board of Zone 7, and that he will put a whole-hearted effort to protect and conserve our water supplies. Every one who knows him knows his history of taking care of the environment, his ability to work with others, and his passion for what he does. I would vote for him without hesitation.

6 people like this
Posted by Ria Shroff
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on May 23, 2016 at 10:44 am

Mr. Thiel is the best person to be on the Zone 7 Board. I had AP Biology with him two years ago, and his commitment to the class, his students, and the class inspired me. He commits himself wholeheartedly to everything he does, and genuinely wants what is best for everyone. The lab where we went to observe the Arroyo del Valle was one of the first of the year, and was a topic of discussion for the rest of the year. He has like 20 years of data that he has collected observing the conditions of the creek and has made himself an expert on it. When Mr. Thiel talks about the creek, his passion is evident, and his pain for the current standards to which the creek is held. I know that Mr. Thiel will do everything in his power to protect the local ecosystem as part of the board.

11 people like this
Posted by factchecker
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 23, 2016 at 12:33 pm

I'm happy to cast one of my votes for Angela Ramirez Holmes. She voted no for the obnoxious rate increase and had the guts to vote no on a 15% raise for the general manager. In addition, she strongly supported have Zone 7 meetings taped by channel 30 for transparency over the objections of the general manager.

5 people like this
Posted by Rick Sira
a resident of Livermore
on May 24, 2016 at 11:21 pm

I strongly recommend Eric Thiel for Zone 7 Board! His knowledge, understanding, and passion for ecosystems and watersheds has been lifelong. Eric, one of Pleasanton's most highly acclaimed and respected teachers, has for years been teaching Amador Valley's kids about "local water and waterways." Please look into all of the candidates. Eric Thiel will be my choice!

21 people like this
Posted by Evil Odra Noel
a resident of Livermore
on May 25, 2016 at 1:21 pm

Angela has tried her best to pry Z-7 out of the iron grip of control of the current GM; no easy feat. The GM has been heard expressing her disdain for Angela, and how she hopes Angela will be defeated in this election. Let's all make sure that doesn't happen!

8 people like this
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Livermore
on May 26, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Maybe it is time for the residents of the Tri Valley to take more interest in what is going on at Zone 7 and if the Board and General Manager have the best interests of our community at heart. I have heard so much about the Board (with the exception of Directors McGrail and Holmes) being nothing more than puppets at the whim of the General Manager. I would still like to know why Zone 7 spent over 18 million dollars on the Patterson property while at the same time the GM was talking about rate increases and going off the fiscal cliff. I think it is perhaps time to throw out the old and replace long time Board members and replace the General Manager with someone more transparent and less power hungry.

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