Lauren Hanson, current vice president of the Goleta Water District’s board of directors, announced on Monday her decision to run for re-election, joining her colleagues — president Bill Rosen and director Rick Merrifield — who are also vying for another term. The 12-year Goleta Valley resident and Hawaii native — who has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Yale and an MBA from Harvard — was elected to the board in 2008. In addition to her board duties, Hanson also served on the Goleta Vision Committee.
After making her announcement, Hanson spoke with The Santa Barbara Independent about why she is excited to run again, what she hoped for the district when she started, and what she says she’s helped accomplish since then. Here is the edited version of our chat.
How do you feel having finished your first term? I think we’ve made great progress. We provide a lifeline service at the water district, and I wanted to be sure that the district was financially stable and continued to provide water at less than a penny a gallon, and that we continued to be respectful to all of our customers. The district had a less-than-stellar reputation, and I think we’ve done a lot to fix that. I think people feel that the district is really there for them and that we have their best interests at heart.
Some people were bothered by last year’s rate hikes. It was a tough decision. It just became clear that increased rates had to play a part [in addition to budget cuts]. Our job is to make sure that we have a strong, stable district to provide water to people. The rate increase helped assure us of the ability to do that.
You said that you ran in 2008 because you had serious concerns about the district. How do you feel about it now? It’s almost night and day, or maybe day and night. The way the district is perceived, the way we treat customers. There were people who complained about the rate increases — I read every letter that we got. I made a list, and the staff made a list, and we had the district write back to those people, and people thanked us for that. If they had a question or a comment, we responded. I think that’s the way you treat people.
You and current president Bill Rosen both have stressed the importance of building the financial reserves. Just as you need to have a water buffer in case there’s a drought, you need to have a financial buffer in case there’s a problem. The district was operating without a financial buffer, and we thought that was very risky. It wasn’t the way to build a water district.
What can you tell me about the Infrastructure Improvement Plan, the district’s first such plan? There are 270 miles of pipes throughout the district. When we came in, there was single sheet of paper with a list of things that didn’t explain anything. We developed a five-year plan looking at the things we need to address immediately, and to make sure that the entire system is working in the best possible way to provide service. All of the departments worked together.
You said that you’re really proud of the just-approved Sustainability Plan. Can you tell me more about that? By considering three important parameters — economic, social, and environmental — the district will be able to evaluate decisions in a way that’s financially responsible and thoughtful about how we fit into the greater community. It really demonstrates that we view ourselves as a part of the community and an agency that has responsibility.