Two candidates seeking reelection for their seats on the Dublin San Ramon Services District Board of Directors participated in a public forum to present their campaign goals to voters earlier this month.
Incumbents Arun Goel (Area 5) and Ann Marie Johnson (Area 2) utilized the platform of the Pleasanton Weekly-moderated forum to discuss pressing issues within the communities they serve. Their respective opponents chose not to attend.
Main issues addressed throughout the public discussion on Oct. 3 included water supply demands, usage concerns and safety plans for contaminated water.
The DSRSD board is composed of five elected nonpartisan individuals that retain their terms for four years. The board directs policies, hires officers and the district general manager and oversees related actions. Three seats for the board -- from districts 2, 4 and 5 -- are up for grabs in the upcoming general election.
Each is vying for a board position with the DSRSD, a regional agency that provides water, wastewater and recycled water services to Dublin and parts of San Ramon, as well as sewer service to Pleasanton by contract.
Goel previously served on the Dublin City Council as well as the Dublin Planning Commission. Due to a lack of candidates for the DSRSD Area 5 position in the 2020 election, he was appointed to fill the seat on a two-year term in early 2021. Now, he is seeking reelection and is challenged by Seema Badar.
Director Johnson was first elected to the board in 2018. She is facing facility manager and opponent, Jim Brady, for Area 2.
Current DSRSD Director Georgean Vonheeder-Leopold is running unopposed for Area 4. She was appointed to the board in January 1992 for a term ending 1992. She was elected in 1992 and 1996, and appointed again in July 2009 for term ending 2010. She was then elected in 2010, 2014, and 2018.
Vonheeder-Leopold served as board president in 2014 and 2018.
Hosted in part by the Pleasanton Weekly and the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, the forum was held via Zoom and livestreamed for audience members on Oct. 3. Moderators Gina Channell Wilcox and Cierra Bailey of the Weekly led the forum, asking candidates relevant questions to district services and community concerns.
Starting off, candidates were asked how they would assess the area's water supply and work alongside the cities and Zone 7 Water Agency within the district to encourage better water reliability and usage.
"It's going to have to be a collaborative focus," Johnson said. "We have been urging conservation, but that's not going to be enough. We do need to continue to look for enhanced supplies and ways to use our recycled water and get us to 100% reuse."
Johnson further discussed this goal, expressing the need to "get the water in the valley to stay in the valley."
In his response to working with communities about usage, Goel supported his fellow board member's remarks regarding collaboration and reusable water.
Goel then discussed his intention to educate the public on the processes of assessing water storage, needs and anticipated demands. He explained how the district and agency examine housing projections and resident projections in order to estimate net water usage and supply methods.
"Using that background, we then determine what are our obligations and if we can balance out the equation," Goel said.
Moderators introduced the growing concern that per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, simply known as PFAS contaminants, are being found in Tri-Valley water supplies. Candidates were asked what actions should be taken by the district to ensure safety from these contaminations.
"It is a new and emerging contamination of concern," Johnson said, also asserting her expertise on the topic as a chemist. She added how the treatment, exposure levels and health risks have not been fully evaluated yet.
Johnson further outlined specific preventive measures the district and wholesaler have been taking in regards to possible contamination.
"We have been sampling, we understand where the risk is, and we have been working with Zone 7," Johnson said. "We've been working with them to do blending, to turn off some wells and be mindful of where we might be headed."
To end her response, Johnson emphasized the importance of finding a collaborative, innovative and cost-effective approach to the issue that serves all communities and cities within the district.
Goel presented a visual representation to audience members, stating the Tri-Valley water contamination equated to one drop in 20 football fields. In addition, Goel said PFAS contaminants can exist in common household objects such as makeup and carpets.
"It (PFAS) is an evolving arena for us. As new studies are coming out, we're learning more, we're learning how to control it," Goel said. "We are monitoring the wells that are providing our water and we will blend or avoid those as needed."
Given that 2022 is another severe drought year for the region, candidates were asked if there was a plan to provide recycled water to residents for landscaping purposes, as was done in past years.
Goel offered solutions such as instating an online booking service or finding additional alternate treatment sites to process and recycle wastewater for residential landscaping uses. He asserted that the plan would not be discussed for another year.
"In order to be effective, we need our partners to be onboard," Goel said. "We have to continue to evaluate, which we are, and we'll bring it back next year for consideration."
"We are in a stage two drought and as we likely move to stage three, we are going to make a commitment to allow some sort of a residential fill station. The plans that we have are in conjunction with Livermore and Pleasanton," Johnson said, also explaining how valley residents would greatly benefit from such a relationship, as extra water from Livermore or other locations could be pumped to an in-need area.
"We are still working on collaborative projects so that when the summer comes around again we will have a viable solution," Johnson added.
In the final topic presented to the candidates, they were asked to speak on the district's plan for affordability and residents struggling with their bills.
Goel mentioned a program currently in consideration by board members called the low-income household water assistance program. He expressed his support for this program and continued conversations around access and affordability. Following her fellow forum participant, Johnson emphasized the outreach done by the district.
The complete DSRSD candidate forum recording is available to view on the Pleasanton Weekly's YouTube channel.