As most of Santa Barbara County now knows, the Carpinteria Valley Water District (CVWD) has been beset with controversy, staggering debt, soaring water rates, a series of contracts riddled with conflict of interest, and, most recently, a failed attempt to re-seat a former board president who had been voted out by a landslide in the previous election. Did we mention that the district was the subject of a scathing Grand Jury report in 2007?
Add to this the fact that the CVWD sits on its own high-quality, free water, yet charges among the highest rates in California, and perhaps the country. No surprise, then, that the residents of Carpinteria are crying out for change.
To remedy this debacle, we – Polly Holcombe, Shirley Johnson, and Alexandra Van Antwerp – three capable, determined women, have formed the slate Carp Water Matters and pledge to bring fiscal rectitude, transparency, and a culture of leadership that will place the CVWD on a new footing. This is no idle boast: The Carp Water Matters candidates come armed with impressive credentials.
Polly Holcombe began her career with the U.S. Dept. of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, assigned to complex overseas deals. Polly’s career includes senior positions in corporate America, where she managed a global team of 100-plus employees and a $20 million budget. She presently owns and manages an Asia market development business. Polly was endorsed by the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee.
Shirley Johnson’s professional experience spans more than 20 years in international trade as an executive vice president specializing in start-up turnkey factory installations in China, along with international marketing. Since her retirement, she has committed herself to an array of civic issues and volunteerism.
Alexandra Van Antwerp is a fourth-generation Carpinterian, with strong ties throughout the local farming and residential community. She raised five children and founded two multimillion-dollar software companies. Her business experience of 27 years and proven ability to make sound high-dollar decisions based on facts, analysis, and resources will be a boon for CVWD.
All three of us have been endorsed by Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, The Carpinteria Valley Association, and The Sierra Club, to name just a few.
Accustomed to complex environments and making difficult decisions, all three of us have strong management skills that will provide the necessary financial oversight of CVWD. We advocate reasonable water rates, water conservation, reducing and defraying State Water expenditures, and diligent oversight of all projects and contracts. We bring solid experience and fresh ideas towards addressing these issues and look forward to a productive collaboration with Water District board members Al Orozco and Matt Roberts.
This change in the CVWD is long overdue and the challenges are daunting. Current debt service for a proposed 2012/13 budget, issued in the board packet, is a whopping $4.192 million dollars, which is only about 25% less than the total operating expenses budget.
Along with the State Water debt, major capital improvements make up a large chunk of this debt service. Several of these capital Improvement projects have been questionable and of dubious value.
For example, the CVWD is now mired in a $25-million-dollar conflict-of-interest lawsuit involving its former attorneys – a relationship that residents exhorted the board to terminate as far back as 2004. Then there is the three-million-gallon Rancho Monte Alegre tank project which was first promised to cost just $3 million and somehow bloomed to $12 million – and counting – all for a tank that many ratepayers protested was an unnecessary, unaffordable expense. Meanwhile, the Ortega tank project has been plagued with expensive leaks and problems. Clearly, transparent and diligent vetting of contracts and conscientious oversight of its construction was sorely needed but not implemented. Moreover, why was not proper insurance in place to protect the CVWD from potential leaks and failures?
We also question the appropriateness of the gold-plated health insurance policies provided to board members when CVWD is drowning in red ink. Carp Water Matters believes that cost-cutting must begin with the board, and will take steps to reduce costs of its current insurance coverage. Moreover, we have pledged to put the brakes on any new projects unless they are proven to be essential and cost-effective in the long term.
There is a squadron of new water predators at our doorstep: corporate monopolies wanting to take over our water resources, oil companies desirous of drilling through our water basins and fracking, the possibility of yet more State Water debt, climate change, and drought.
Do the voters trust the incumbents to steer us through these complex challenges? We think not. Finally, change is on the way.
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Polly Holcombe, Shirley Johnson, and Alexandra Van Antwerp are candidates for the Carpinteria Valley Water District Board of Directors.