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Newcomer Johnson, incumbent Vonheeder-Leopold win DSRSD election

Pleasanton's sewer district sees first contested election in six years

The first contested Dublin San Ramon Services District election since 2012 proved to be a competitive one, with incumbent Georgean Vonheeder-Leopold reclaiming her seat on the Board of Directors and newcomer Ann Marie Johnson finishing in the top spot in the election.

Johnson took a commanding lead early on in the ballot-counting process and was followed closely behind by Vonheeder-Leopold, as both candidates would go on to defeat three other challengers for the two available board seats.

Both victors will serve a four-year term overseeing the public agency that provides water and wastewater services in Dublin and parts of San Ramon as well as sewer service to Pleasanton by contract.

Johnson, who will hold elected office for the first time, was the top vote-getter, securing 15,573 votes, or 35.45%, as of Monday afternoon. Johnson was followed by current board president Vonheeder-Leopold, who acquired 9,430 votes, or 21.47%, to earn the second available board position.

Nonprofit director Charles "Chuck" Haupt placed behind Vonheeder-Leopold achieving the third highest number of votes 7,557, or 17.20%, edging out facility manager James Brady who garnered 6,236 votes, good for 14.19% of total votes. Rounding out the pack is retired engineer Richard Jesse, who obtained 4,993 votes across the district for 11.37% of reported votes.

The remaining one-third of a percentage point went to write-in candidates who accounted for 145 votes.

There are still a small number of ballots left to count, namely provisionals and final-day vote-by-mail, but the results collected thus far represent the bulk of ballots cast, and the margins are too significant for the other challengers to realistically overcome.

Johnson secured the seat available after incumbent Director Pat Howard decided to not run for re-election after 14 years on the board.

"This is the first time the district has had an election in years. I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to become familiar with the candidates and issues. I'm looking forward to contributing to the formation of sound water policy here in the Tri-Valley," Johnson told the Weekly.

While this is Johnson's first time holding an elected position, she has a history of working around the environmental and safety industry, beginning her career in environmental consultation.

She campaigned on a platform of ensuring residents of the region have clean and reliable water, ensuring environmental stewardship, and promoting collaboration between the DSRSD and other local water agencies such as Zone 7 -- DSRSD's water wholesaler.

Another key point stressed in her campaign was maintaining affordable water rates for residents within the district. Early in her campaign she cited the region's increasing water costs as a key concern and a driving factor in her decision to run for office.

While Johnson has vision for forming a sound collaborative water policy, her first actions as a director will be to help with the district's immediate needs.

"On (Nov. 11), the Dublin Boulevard office flooded. My first order of business will likely be to ensure the staff has all the resources necessary to make the district office habitable again. Packing, moving, salvaging is stressful; and the current split locations make customer service difficult. Hopefully we can get everyone 'home' as soon as possible," she said.

Longtime board member Vonheeder-Leopold will add another DSRSD term to her extended resume of elected experience, including spending 18 of the past 30 years on the DSRSD board.

"I think it is kind of fun that we will have three women on DSRSD," Vonheeder-Leopold said with a laugh. "That's something we've worked for so long and oh my gosh here it is."

She told the Weekly that she plans on getting right back to work and will continue to prioritize finding additional water supplies in order to mitigate the trouble that will come if another drought hits. She is a supporter of potable reuse as an alternate source, but admits that option hasn't been received well in recent years. Desalination is another option, but both alternatives are very expensive, she said.

While she was happy to have won re-election, Vonheeder-Leopold said the election coverage and actions of some residents was a disappointment.

"This is my 11th election and this was one of the worst I've lived through. There was so much negativity going on in Dublin plus nobody covered us," she said. "Voters did not have the opportunity to see the differences in our backgrounds and experiences. Basically we were ignored and here we are one of the most important services that are provided."

She also alleged that 30 election signs she put up went missing, adding that the disappearances left a bad taste in her mouth.

"I don't know it just felt a little uncomfortable and unfortunately felt a lot like our country is right now, which is just mean and divisive," she added.

Vonheeder-Leopold moved to Dublin in 1971, and in addition to her time on the DSRSD Board of Directors (1992 to 2000 and 2009 to present), she previously served on the Dublin City Council (1984-90), Dublin Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and as Dublin's city historian.

The DSRSD election results include totals reported by Alameda County for Dublin ballots and Contra Costa County for the portions of San Ramon represented by the district. Though the district provides sewer service for the city of Pleasanton by contract, Pleasanton residents do not vote for the DSRSD board because the city is outside of the district's official boundaries.

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