Pleasanton voters will play a role in deciding one of the least heralded -- but also one of the most significant -- publicly elected boards in the Tri-Valley.
Along with peers in Dublin and Livermore this June, Pleasanton residents will vote on four positions on the Zone 7 Water Agency Board of Directors, a group of officials whose decisions directly impact the water supply, water rates and flood protection in our part of the Tri-Valley.
This is a pivotal moment for Zone 7, with a new general manager (Santa Clarita water official Valerie Pryor) on the job just two weeks, work set to get underway on high-price ozone filtration projects to improve water quality, $64 million in bonds recently sold to fund those projects and debt payoff, and flood prevention and erosion projects still to complete after storms the past two winters.
Not to mention the need to reassess current water sources -- and find new ones -- to supplement the Tri-Valley's supply as California continues to eke its way out of severe drought.
The Zone 7 election features three seasoned incumbents and two knowledgeable, eager challengers.
After sitting down with four of the candidates and reviewing the records of all five, it is clear to us that the best leaders to serve Zone 7 for the next four years are three-term incumbent Sarah Palmer, retired Zone 7 engineer Dennis Gambs and Pleasanton resident Olivia Sanwong.
We recognize that voters will elect four directors in all, but we cannot in good conscience support incumbents John Greci and Bill Stevens given their lack of commitment to engaging the public -- especially as leaders of an agency striving to shake the reputation of being perhaps the least openly transparent in the Tri-Valley.
Unlike her two colleagues seeking re-election, Palmer represents a refreshing voice determined to engage and educate Tri-Valley residents about all issues facing Zone 7. She recognizes the agency's previous record on transparency and seems focused on continuing to improve it.
A recently retired biochemist who also teaches environmental science in local schools, Palmer has the institutional knowledge and holistic, forward-thinking approach necessary to guide Zone 7 through its crucial water supply decisions during the term ahead, such as the proposed Sites Reservoir project, California WaterFix, groundwater and the Chain of Lakes.
She's passionate about water and knows the issues. But she's also personable and charismatic while still showing herself to be a calming voice on the board. Exactly the type of leader Zone 7 needs now.
As Zone 7 moves through a time of general manager transition and new water improvement and flood protection efforts, the Board of Directors would also benefit strongly from fresh perspectives reflective of the needs of the Tri-Valley and its residents.
Gambs has shown he can be that voice.
A civil engineer with Zone 7 for 34 years until retiring in 2015, Gambs understands the agency inside and out. Perhaps as importantly, he understands what it means to work with residents as a Zone 7 representative from his decades as an employee there.
He maintains extensive knowledge of Zone 7's key issues, has received the support of varying interests during his campaign and is a proponent of more public outreach in the board's decision-making on topics such as water rates, expenditures, flood protection and water supply enhancements.
Gambs represents the type of change Zone 7 needs to thrive in the next four years.
As does Sanwong.
Employed as an analyst for Thermo Fisher Scientific, Sanwong understands fiscal management in the science sector -- plus, she demonstrates good knowledge of Tri-Valley water issues and the desire to keep expanding that knowledge. She's also been determined to give back to her community through service like Pleasanton Rotary Club and the city's Economic Vitality Committee.
But perhaps more importantly, this Pleasanton native would secure another deserved seat at the table for her hometown, breaking up Livermore's hold on the board. The four other candidates are Livermore residents, and five of the sitting seven board members overall are from Livermore.
Sanwong's place on the board would help ensure Pleasanton residents' and leaders' voices are heard.
Making sure the whole Tri-Valley remains engaged certainly doesn't appear to be a priority for incumbents Greci and Stevens, who have both served since the Clinton Administration.
Sure he knows the issues, but Stevens seems to view public outreach as a burden. He thinks the long-held concerns about Zone 7 transparency are unfounded, he has been abrasive with resident speakers from the dais, and he also told us he's fine with people not showing up at the public meetings -- and gave the distinct impression he would not go out of his way to encourage attendance.
Greci has left countless inquiries from Weekly reporters unanswered during his current year as board president. We can only imagine what it's like when an average resident sends him an email. Plus, he did not attend our scheduled endorsement interview, no-showing without notice.
When casting your ballot for Zone 7 board, we recommend voting Palmer, Gambs and Sanwong.
We were saddened to hear of Zone 7 Director Jim McGrail's untimely death from natural causes last weekend at age 63. He was a beloved Livermore resident, well-regarded attorney and winery owner, and devoted public servant that included work as a sheriff's deputy and county prosecutor. Our thoughts are with the McGrail family, Zone 7 and the Livermore community at this time.