It is unusual, if not unprecedented, for a candidate running for a seat on the nine-member board of the Santa Clara Valley Water District to spend several hundred thousand dollars to get elected.
But that is what's happening in entrepreneur Gary Kremen's bid to unseat incumbent Brian Schmidt to represent Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Gatos in District 7.
Kremen, who is politically connected and himself a major campaign donor to many local elected officials and the Democratic party, has loaned his own campaign $250,000 through the end of September and already spent more than $300,000.
This high-powered politics is new territory for incumbent Schmidt, who has raised just $13,000 and has been completely blind-sided by Kremen's high-spending bid.
Kremen has come out aggressively against Schmidt and says he will take that same approach if elected in dealing with the operation of the water district. Every meeting of the district board will be a "job interview" for the agency's CEO, Kremen promises, just like the private sector.
He has a litany of criticisms of Schmidt and the district, including not focusing enough attention on the drought, not doing enough to pressure the Regional Water Quality Control Board, a state agency, to approve badly needed flood-control measures for San Francisquito Creek, and not undertaking needed seismic upgrades to the county's reservoirs. He also objects to the fact that revenues from a state water tax aren't being fairly distributed throughout the district.
Kremen, who is the founder of Match.com, is currently board president of the 6,400-customer Purissima Hills Water District in Los Altos Hills and founder and chairman of WaterSmart Software, a company that sells consumption monitoring software to retail water suppliers. The software produces reports that tell consumers how their water use compares with similar households and offers conservation suggestions. He has also started a solar energy financing company.
Schmidt, who ran four years ago as a reform candidate critical of district management, is an environmental lawyer who has spent 15 years working on environmental and water issues, in part as the former legislative advocate for the Committee for Green Foothills. He rejects Kremen's criticisms and says he's been part of a board majority that hired a new CEO, lowered director pay and established more transparency by moving board meetings to the evenings. He points to the work he has done on flood protection and habitat restoration, and especially to help forge broad support for the San Francisquito Creek flood-control work and fighting for its passage in front of the water board.
With Palo Alto's water supply coming entirely from Hetch Hetchy through the San Francisco Water Department, the Santa Clara Valley Water District's importance to the city is primarily in the flood control and creek habitat work where Schmidt has been most active.
Mild-mannered and earnest, Schmidt provides a sharp contrast to free-wheeling entrepreneur and political activist Kremen. Both have the smarts and technical knowledge and interest to serve the district well, but with drastically different styles.
Kremen would shake things up and bring politics much more into play, perhaps for the good. But we object to the excessive amount of money he is spending and don't believe Schmidt has done anything to warrant kicking him out of office. He's been a hard-working and committed board member, doing a more than satisfactory job at representing north county's interests. He just happens to be the one in the way of Kremen's political ambitions.
We recommend re-electing Brian Schmidt to the Santa Clara Valley Water District board of directors.