Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 22, 2010

Becker, Schmidt seek new water board seat

Longtime Los Altos City Council member and environmental lawyer vie to represent area

by Nick Veronin

Palo Alto residents, along with voters from five other Peninsula cities, are being asked in the Nov. 2 election to choose between two men running for the newly created District 7 seat of the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

The two candidates are Lou Becker, a Los Altos City Council member, and Brian Schmidt, an environmental attorney. Bern Beecham, a former Palo Alto mayor, initially planned to run but changed his mind before the filing deadline.

The new district, which comprises Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Monte Sereno and Los Gatos, was created after the Water board of directors approved a redistricting plan May 14. This is the first time county residents will vote on the District 7 seat.

Previously, Palo Alto was a part of District 5, which was represented by Patrick Kwok of Cupertino.

Though part of the water district, Palo Alto receives its water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir via the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

The water district is responsible for oversight, construction and maintenance of various water-related structures, facilities, trails and other projects in the county.

Board members are paid $260 for attending up to 10 district-related meetings. These can be advisory meetings, public meetings with district constituents, briefings with the district's CEO and board of directors meetings. Directors also may be reimbursed for any expenses they incur in the execution of their duties.

Lou Becker

Lou Becker, 76, has lived on the Peninsula since 1962. He has a master's degree in civil engineering, and has worked his whole life as an engineer in one form or another, he said. He founded the company TIW Systems, which went through many name changes and is now a part of General Dynamics.

Becker, whose council term ends in November, said his private-sector experience, along with his 12 years on the Los Altos City Council and his 10 years on the Santa Clara Valley Water Commission, which advises the water district, makes him the ideal candidate for the director of District 7.

"I've always been somewhat interested in water," Becker said. He said he decided to run because he is "concerned about the board. I feel that it's not functioning the way it should."

Becker said he feels that in the past individual members of the board have given preferential treatment to "pet projects" instead of focusing on their core mandates — to protect the district's watersheds and deliver quality water in appropriate quantity to serve district constituents while keeping an eye on the bottom line. He is concerned with high employee salaries and benefits, as well as escalating water rates.

If elected, Becker said, he would work to bring those core mandates back into focus.

Brian Schmidt

Brian Schmidt, 43, has lived in the area for nearly 15 years. He studied and has taught environmental law at Stanford University, and is the "advocate" for Santa Clara County of the Palo Alto-based Committee for Green Foothills.

Schmidt has served on the water district's environmental advisory committee and the performance audit committee. If elected, the Mountain View resident said he would work to cut costs, make changes to the board of director's operational structure and place a priority on mercury reduction in local waterways.

To reduce expenses, Schmidt pointed to superfluous dredging of waterways and taking advantage of the poor economy to obtain lower bids from contractors as ways the district might save money.

He also feels district directors are currently paid too much. While he would like to keep the per-diem Schmidt said he would be in favor of cutting the rate of compensation by half.

"If you're not doing a lot of work there is no reason you should be paid the whole amount," he said.

Schmidt said he would work to have public board meetings moved to evenings so citizens with day jobs can more easily attend. Currently, meetings are held every second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 9:30 a.m.

Mountain View Voice Staff Writer Nick Veronin can be e-mailed at nveronin@mv-voice.com.

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