Santa Ynez Water Board Ballot Battle
By France Komoroske, a Santa Ynez Valley resident
Three candidates recently filed to challenge the three incumbents on the five-member board of the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District No. 1 and were certified as qualified by the County Elections Division.
After the deadline for candidate filing had passed, the general manager of ID1 contacted the County Elections office to remove two of the candidates, Brian Schultz and Anita Finifrock, from the ballot. The purported reason was that only landholders could sit on the board and neither Mr. Schultz nor Ms. Finifrock owned land in the division of the district in which they were running. The candidates found this decision deeply troubling for many reasons, one of which was ID1’s refusal to provide any information about the board seats that were coming up for election because ID 1 told them it doesn’t get involved in the election process.
On August 15, the two candidates were informed of the requirement, and the next week and a half were consumed by a battle between the candidates and ID1’s lawyers over whether the landowner requirement even applied and, if it did, whether it was constitutional. On Friday night, the two candidates were informed in writing by County Elections that they were in fact off the ballot, and their candidate statements and checks were returned to them.
Attorney Phil Seymour then stepped in and wrote a detailed letter to County Elections explaining why the decision to remove the candidates from the ballot was unconstitutional and would not withstand a legal challenge. Mr. Seymour has had success with similar electoral challenges in the past and this was no exception. The ACLU was also contacted and we're waiting in the wings to hear the final decision by the Elections Division.
On August 27, the candidates were informed by County Clerk, Recorder and Assessor Joseph Holland that they were in fact back on the ballot. This means that these two candidates, plus Allen Anderson, will be facing the three incumbents in the November election.
The three challengers hope to change the atmosphere at ID1 to rein in salaries and legal expenses, treat customers fairly and with respect, ensure that board meetings are open, transparent, and properly conducted, end the siege mentality that frightens and intimidates customers, examine fees and charges with the idea of imposing more equitable pricing where possible, and to cooperate with rather than litigate against other entities that have a stake in our water supply.
The candidates look forward to a fair fight for the three seats this November. What the water board does over the next four years will have profound effects on the valley, and valley residents deserve a board that understands the importance of protecting the public interest rather than the special interests of a favored few.