Kremen wins Santa Clara Valley Water District seat founder to join board that will address droughts, flooding in coming years

The founder of, Gary Kremen, has won a seat on the Santa Clara Valley Water District board, with 50.57 percent of the vote to incumbent Brian Schmidt's 49.43 percent, with all 212 precincts reporting as of Monday, Nov. 10. The seat represents the cities of Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Gatos.

While provisional ballots are yet to be counted, Kremen led all Tuesday night as votes were tallied. He had garnered 19,339 votes as of Wednesday afternoon to Schmidt's 18,361. But Schmidt has shrunken that lead as mail-in ballots were counted over the weekend. As of Monday morning, he was 649 votes behind Kremen, or 1.14 percent.

Santa Clara County officials have said they don't expect to have provisional ballots counted until Dec. 2. Provisional ballots are those that have some sort of problem that must be reviewed before they can be counted or discarded.

Schmidt has not been ready to concede the election. He said he was hoping the percentage would shift as more returns were counted. On Wednesday morning, he had provisionally congratulated Kremen, he said.

"It's highly likely he's won. But 20 percent of absentee ballots have not been counted," he said. Theoretically, something could change, but it's unlikely, he said.

Schmidt said he does not have any plans to run again.

"It's a very different campaign from the one I ran four years ago. And quite frankly, I need to earn more than $32,000 a year. This was a significant pay cut from doing environmental nonprofit work," he said.

In a race that no one would have predicted to be so contentious, both candidates said the personal nature of the attacks was wounding and detracted from the issues.

"It's been brutal," Kremen said on Tuesday night. "I guess I'm an idiot do this. All I wanted was to do something about the drought and about water. I didn't think it would get so personal with all of the campaign finance stuff. I got pummeled."

He reiterated on Wednesday that it wasn't the kind of campaign he expected, and its negative nature dissuades people from public service, he said.

"That makes me sad. Water is too important," he said.

The huge discrepancy in campaign funding between the two candidates made headlines.

Kremen, a serial entrepreneur, outspent Schmidt 22 to 1 during the race. As of Oct. 18, Kremen had spent $397,993 to Schmidt's $17,229.

Schmidt predicted that big money will play an increasing role in special-district races.

"I think it's a significant problem," he said. That amount of money detracts from voters getting a fair representation of the issues and amplifies the impact of misleading messages, he added.

"It's not going to be the last time, especially as we see an increase in (economic) inequality," he said.

Campaign spending is particularly bad for special districts because they don't have the spending limits seen in some other races, such as for county supervisor, he said. A month ago, Schmidt submitted a request for the board to look at spending limits and at the best models it could implement.

Schmidt said he is proud of the campaign he ran and of his wife, who was his campaign manager, and of his volunteers.

"I'm proud of what I did, running it to a near draw while being outspent 22-to-1," he said.

But he didn't entirely blame losing the election on money. Low voter turnout meant that about half as many people cast ballots for the race as when he ran four years ago. And he would not choose to put a maximum cap of $500 on legal contributions to his campaign. He could have done another mailing with the extra money, he said.

"I wish I had more time to do more outreach," he added.

Schmidt, an environmental attorney, served on the board since 2010 and is its current vice president.

Kremen, board president of the Purissima Hills Water District in Los Altos Hills, said on Wednesday that he will focus on four main issues: making sure the water district is fully supportive of getting San Francisquito Creek fixed in a way that serves all constituents; creating a short, medium and long-term plan for the drought and securing a stable water supply; working to make the California State Water Project tax fair to districts that don't get any benefits and receive equity; and bringing business sense and innovation to the board's $4 million budget.

"I want to thank my opponent for his service," Kremen said.

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13 people like this
Posted by LAHscot
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 5, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Well, I am waiting to hear that Gary Kremen will be resigning as chairman of the board and sell or donate his shares of WaterSmart, a San Francisco company where he is a founding investor. WaterSmart sells software to cities and water districts to show residents how much water they are using, compared to their neighbors. As reported in the Merc, WaterSmart's customers include the cities of Mountain View and Palo Alto, both of which work closely with the Santa Clara Valley Water District. Gary promised to do all that IF WaterSmart became a conflict. In my opinion, we are at that point. Merc article: Web Link

11 people like this
Posted by Bummed Out
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2014 at 6:45 pm

I believer Mr Kremen has a couple of conflicts of interest, not the least of which is WaterSmart ( which stands to profit from his election). He should sell this company immediately.

5 people like this
Posted by David Koch
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 5, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Color me shocked that the bazillionaire won.

1 person likes this
Posted by Tom Steyer
a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2014 at 11:05 pm

@David - maybe you can offer me some tips?

1 person likes this
Posted by Linda
a resident of another community
on Nov 6, 2014 at 7:26 pm

I wanted to be informed on what was going on with our drought . I contacted Gary and had a informal visit with him.. I found him to be pleasant , professional, quite like able and approachable. He had answers for my water concerns and it was clear that he was prepared .

I followed his campaign trail and became informed on issues I didn't even know about. Mr Kremen didn't buy this election he worked non stop. I believe the voters did their homework and picked the best person they felt they could relate to. The voters aren't stupid and it bothers me that the media promotes this drama.

6 people like this
Posted by Ed Koch
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 6, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Sure he didn't buy the election. He just spent half a million dollars because he was trying to prove that supply side economics works. He was being a job creator. Anyone who thinks that a very rich white guy who spends $500K to win a seat on the frigging water board is "buying an election" is just part of the 47% of people who are dependent on the government. [Portion removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by Laohu
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 9, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Anybody that would stoop so low as using the sound of a flushing toilet to attack his opponent should be punished and not rewarded, but our mockcracy process has turn everything upside down and money is everything to winning.

3 people like this
Posted by Sosumi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2014 at 9:42 pm

So will he sell his company, WaterSmart, before he takes office on January1? If not, he should resign the position he just won.

It can't be easy to let go of a profitable company, but isn't he a billionaire from anyway?

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 9, 2014 at 10:10 pm

@Sosumi -- was bought by Cendant for less than $7 million way back around 1998. Don't know what sliver of that went to Gary. You won't find him on the Forbes 400.

1 person likes this
Posted by Former Employee
a resident of another community
on Nov 23, 2014 at 2:06 pm

[Post removed.]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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