Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - October 22, 2010

Editorial: Lou Becker for Santa Clara Valley Water District board

Two strong candidates surface for the usually low-profile Santa Clara Valley Water District, one emphasizing the district's "core mission" and the other adding environmental concerns

Two solid candidates, longtime Los Altos Town Council member Lou Becker and environmentalist Brian Schmidt, are vying for one open seat on the obscure but vitally important Santa Clara Valley Water District board.

The sprawling district bears responsibility for water supplies, watersheds and flood protection in Santa Clara County.

For the Palo Alto and North County areas, the district is best known for its work in flood control, especially its funding of preliminary studies relating to long-term flood prevention for the volatile San Francisquito Creek.

Countywide the district's profile has risen due to county Grand Jury reports that have been harshly critical of its operations and expenditures.

The Schmidt-Becker race has been among the most civil of this political season, with each acknowledging the other's abilities and experience. In our opinion either would do a fine job.

Schmidt is an environmental lawyer who has written a handbook on the Endangered Species Act, and has taught environmental law at Stanford University. He currently works for the Palo Alto-based Committee for Green Foothills (CGF) as its Santa Clara County "advocate"— essentially an environmental lobbyist. Water is a special interest of his, and for six years he has served on the water district's environmental advisory board.

If elected, he said he would resign from the advisory group but continue work with CGF, recusing himself from votes when there is a potential conflict of interest.

Becker, in addition to serving 12 years on the Los Altos Town Council, holds a masters degree in civil engineering and spent 40 years in that profession, including starting his own engineering firm. For 10 years he has served on the Santa Clara County Water Commission, an advisory group to the water district.

Both candidates vow to increase the district's "transparency" and examine its staffing levels, now at about 700 persons.

Our preference for Becker stems from his focus on the need to reform the way the board operates, including narrowing its work to its core mission. He is appropriately critical of the current board for attempting to gerrymander the voting districts and for not being more restrained in its spending practices.

Schmidt shares these views, but is more interested in the how the district can develop stronger environmental protections for the watershed and water quality.

We believe Schmidt will continue to be effective before the water board on environmental issues as the CGF advocate, while Becker's engineering, financial and management experience will make him the most effective member of the water board.

The water district needs a clear focus, and we believe Becker is the best bet to help provide that.

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