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Placer Sentinel

Concerns Over Underrepresentation with SJWD's New Election System

Aug 12, 2020 12:00AM ● By Story by Shaunna Boyd

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - On August 3 and 5, the San Juan Water District (SJWD) Board of Directors restarted the public hearing process in their transition to division-based elections. Anonymous users hijacked a prior public meeting, so community members did not have an opportunity to comment on the process at that time. Both meetings were held through online video teleconferencing and limited Boardroom attendance to meet social distancing guidelines.

The SJWD Board of Directors governs the District’s wholesale and retail operations. The SJWD service area includes Granite Bay, Citrus Heights, Fair Oaks, Orangevale, and part of Folsom and Roseville. The SJWD retail division primarily delivers water to customers in Granite Bay and part of Roseville. The wholesale division sells water to Citrus Heights Water District, Fair Oaks Water District, Orange Vale Water Company, and the City of Folsom (north of the American River).

Under the current at-large election system, the five elected Board members can reside anywhere within the service area. The transition process will split the area into five divisions, and each division will elect one member to the Board of Directors. To meet the legal requirements of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), the new divisions must be contiguous and compact, each division must have reasonably equal populations based on the most recent census data available (with no more than a 10% deviation allowed between divisions), communities of interest must be considered, and no racial gerrymandering is allowed.

The Citrus Heights Water District and the Fair Oaks Water District jointly submitted a draft map for consideration. The attached letter explained that the while generally following the census-designated boundaries of cities and unincorporated areas, their draft map also considers “where residents identify their community. … Resident identification is a strong indication of a municipal Community of Interest.”

Their draft map includes most of Orangevale in one division and most of Fair Oaks in another, splits Citrus Heights into two divisions (with parts of Fair Oaks and Orangevale incorporated into one), and combines Granite Bay into a division with the portions of Roseville and Folsom included in the service area. The map has a total population deviation of just 5.5% between divisions.

Multiple community members from Granite Bay expressed concern that the new system would leave them underrepresented compared to customers in the wholesale service area, since Citrus Heights, Fair Oaks, and Orangevale receive their water from local water districts that are governed by their own elected Boards. Tom Gray submitted a letter stating that although he works as general manager for the Fair Oaks Water District, he is a SJWD retail rate payer. He stated, “SJWD retail ratepayers do not want new SJWD Wholesale Board Representatives from Fair Oaks, Citrus Heights, and Orangevale setting our water rates and making decisions relative to our local water system operations.”

In response to multiple public comments requesting that the Board provide Granite Bay with its own water district, SJWD Board President Ted Costa explained that the Board has no authority to create a new water district. Legal Counsel Jennifer Buckman said, “Whether or not a retail service agency would be formed to represent the Granite Bay area is beyond the scope of these proceedings.” Buckman said that residents of Granite Bay would have to initiate proceedings through LAFCo (Local Agency Formation Commissions), which oversees the establishment of local government agencies and their municipal service areas.

Amber Beckler submitted a comment stating that Granite Bay has many large lots, some of which are used for hobby farms, “so the rural properties by virtue of size and land use have potentially higher water requirements and therefore would unduly suffer if rates were set by those living in dense urban areas with minimal lawn.”

Granite Bay residents Cheryl Berkema and Sandra Harris both submitted comments expressing concern about the potential underrepresentation of Granite Bay and requested that the area be given two Board members under the new system. (Three of the five current Board members live in Granite Bay.)

Another concern brought up by community members and echoed by Director Dan Rich is the boundary between Sacramento and Placer counties. Because both counties have their own local ballots, candidates running for election in a division that spans both counties would have to file in both counties and pay the associated fees in both counties. There is concern that this could unfairly disadvantage those candidates.

Because the legal requirements specify that divisions must include roughly equal populations, the new SJWD divisions must each have approximately 30,100 residents — based on 2010 census data. The service area in Placer County (which includes only Granite Bay and the small section of Roseville) has a population of approximately 20,000. It doesn’t appear feasible to create a division boundary along the county line while also meeting the population requirement. The population requirement would also preclude Granite Bay from getting two Board members.

The Board will consider public comments in the creation of draft maps, which will be discussed and refined at two public hearings scheduled for September 9 and October 14. The final map will be adopted on November 9, and then adjusted, if necessary, when the 2020 Census data is released.

The public is encouraged to submit draft maps for consideration, and the template can be downloaded from the SJWD website (www.sjwd.org/draft-map-template). Community members can also submit comments for consideration by emailing [email protected].

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