Big Bucks Battle Over Water Boards

Money Flowing into Montecito, Goleta Races

Spurred by the interminable drought and the drying up of Lake Cachuma, serious political battles are being fought for seats on two South Coast water boards: Goleta and Montecito. Although the Goleta water board cannot make land-use or development decisions, the race is emerging as a referendum on new construction that is drastically altering the city. Incumbents Lauren Hanson, Bill Rosen, and Rick Merrifield, backed by the Democratic Party machine, tout the district’s impressive conservation program and getting its books in order. Rosen has raised $10,200 ​— ​$8,000 of which he loaned himself ​— ​and Hansen, $9,625. Merrifield has not raised enough to trigger county reporting requirements.

The two challengers, Bob Geis and Jean Blois, have diametrically opposed positions to one another: Geis, the former county Auditor-Controller, is concerned not only about the rapid growth but also that the present Goleta water board has prickly relations with other water agencies and has not found new supplies. Geis, ​a lifelong Democrat, raised $2,140. Blois, a former water boardmember and Goleta mayor who is strongly backed by the Chamber of Commerce and business interests and more amenable to growth, raised $10,400.

In Montecito, the race is even more convoluted. Incumbent Charles Newman, who raised $12,000, is running as an experienced agent of change, pushing a resistant board to consider reclaimed water. One challenger, Tom Mosby, who ran the water district for 17 years and refuses to even consider reclaimed water, has raised no money.

A slate of challengers, Tobe Plough and Floyd Wicks, are campaigning to negotiate a deal with the City of Santa Barbara’s desalination plant and to pursue recycled water with the Montecito Sanitary District. Plough and Wicks have each raised $36,000, all from an identical pool of donors. Wicks ran a private water company, Golden State, for 30 years, where dissatisfied ratepayers voted for a multimillion-dollar tax to buy out the company. Wicks noted that he had left Golden State by then.

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