The Zone 7 Water Agency Board of Directors recently chose not to endorse the nearly $9 billion statewide water bond measure, five months after the Dublin San Ramon Services District board voted unanimously to support it.
Proposition 3, which will appear on the November ballot, would issue $8.9 billion in general obligation bonds to generate revenue for water-related projects, including water infrastructure, groundwater supplies and storage, habitat protection and more. It comes just four years after California voters approved another multi-billion-dollar water bond.
Water service provider DSRSD has thrown their support behind the Water Supply and Water Quality Act of 2018, citing the proposition's widespread support and lauding it as a "much-needed investment."
"This bill will benefit individual water users, the environment, and agriculture," officials said in a recent statement. "With support from across the board (92 conservation groups, 18 agricultural organizations, 11 environmental justice groups, 73 water agencies, 26 local governments, 88 businesses), this balanced water bond will improve water supplies for every part of the state and provide some much-needed investment in California's sustainable water future."
However, while Zone 7 board members were split on the decision at their Aug. 15 board meeting, voting 4-3 not to take a position, the directors who opposed endorsing the measure cited the lack of precedent as their rationale.
"I don't want our meetings to be just filled with things asking us to take a position," said newly appointed board president Angela Ramirez Holmes. She was in the majority vote along with directors Olivia Sanwong and Bill Stevens and board vice president Sandy Figuers. "I understand that there is some direct benefit to Zone 7 here. I also understand as an elected official, or as a voter, we can make decisions."
"I just hesitate to set a new precedent," she added. "We didn't take a position on the last water bond, for example."
Prop 3 is sponsored by Californians for Safe Drinking Water and a Clean and Reliable Water Supply. If passed in November, the majority of bond revenue from the measure -- $2.355 billion -- would be directed to conservancies and state parks for watershed lands restoration, and to nonprofits and local agencies for river parkways.
The proposition would also allocate $640 million to groundwater sustainability agencies and $500 million for public water system infrastructure improvements, and it mandates that $1.398 billion be spent on projects benefiting state-defined disadvantaged communities, with an additional $2.637 billion prioritized for disadvantaged communities.
The bond is expected to generate about $8.4 billion in interest over a 40-year period, according to the state fiscal analyst, which would cost the state a total $17.3 billion.
Gerald Meral, former deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources and Prop 3's developer, came before Zone 7 in July seeking their endorsement.
He said the proposal is similar to Prop 1, which passed in 2014 and issued $7.12 billion in bond money for water infrastructure and watershed protection. However, Meral said, of the remaining Prop 1 funds, "by the end of next year those will pretty much be expended by the various departments that receive them."
"If we're going to be looking at EcoRestore and that type of thing, this is the sort of thing which would help make some of that possible," director Sarah Palmer said at the August meeting. She was in the minority vote supporting the proposition, along with directors Dick Quigley and Dennis Gambs. "So I think that it's important for us to look at this and to support it."
DSRSD General Manager Daniel McIntyre concurred during the public comment period at the meeting.
"The Association of California Water Agencies supports this measure, and DSRSD board, back in March, before the measure was numbered, voted unanimously to support this measure, so we encourage the zone to likewise do so," McIntyre said. The DSRSD board members voted to endorse it again at their Aug. 21 meeting, now that it has been numbered and named, according to district officials.
But the majority of the agency's members opined that endorsing political measures is not their duty.
"Not taking a position doesn't mean we can't educate the public about it," vice president Figuers said. "I'm fully supportive of giving out information. But we have just never done these, I don't think we want to go down there."