When voters decide on March 8 whether to establish a groundwater management district for the Paso Robles basin, five of the nine seats on the board of directors also will be in contention.
Friday was the deadline for filing candidacy papers for the district’s nine-member board of directors. The board will manage the district if residents and property owners in the Paso Robles groundwater basin vote to both form and fund the district.
The board would consist of a combination of small, medium and large property owners and registered voters. Owners of 400 acres or more, 40 acres to less than 400 acres, and owners of less than 40 acres will each elect two board members. Registered voters will elect three board members.
Both the large landowner and registered voter categories have more candidates than there are seats available and will be determine in the March 8 election, said Tommy Gong, county Clerk-Recorder. In the small- and medium-sized landowner categories, only one candidate applied for each seat, so they will automatically be appointed in lieu of election if the district is approved and will not appear on the March 8 ballot.
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According to the county Clerk-Recorder’s Office, the following are the candidates in each category.
Large landowners — two seats
Dana M. Merrill of Paso Robles, vineyard owner and president of Mesa Vineyard Management
Serena Friedman of Paso Robles, owner of Serena’s Vineyard
Stephen Sinton of Shandon, owner of Avenales Ranch
Medium landowners — two seats
Randall Diffenbaugh of Paso Robles, a diversified farmer
Bill Spencer of Creston, owner of Windrose Farms
Small landowners — two seats
Edwin J. Rambuski of Templeton, an attorney and co-owner of Templeton Valley Farms
Chad E. Patten of Paso Robles, father and business owner
Registered voters — three seats
Sue Luft of Templeton, retired engineer and small-acreage vintner
Hilary Shirey Graves, of Creston, farmer and vintner
Dean DiSandro of Paso Robles, management consultant and owner of Rockin’ R Winery of Paso Robles
Michael Baugh of Paso Robles, editor for the Art Director’s Guild magazine “Perspective”
Most of the candidates for the board seats have been vocal supporters of the formation of the water district. However, DiSandro is listed by the state Legislature as an opponent of the bill that allows the water district to be formed.
In order for the water district to be formed and the board of directors seated, two other elections also scheduled for March 8 will have to be successful. Both must pass in order for the district to be formed.
In one election, a majority of landowners within the basin must vote in favor of forming the district. In the other, two-thirds of the qualified voters in the basin must approve a special per-parcel tax to provide the water district the estimated $1 million it will need annually to manage the basin.
Ballots for these vote-by-mail elections will be available Feb. 8. They must be returned to the Clerk-Recorder’s Office by March 8.
Supporters and opponents of forming the water district have filed their ballot arguments. These echo the comments made at multiple Board of Supervisors and Local Agency Formation Commission public meetings about forming the water district.
Supporters argue that the district will give residents and landowners control of the basin. A new state law requires that troubled groundwater basins be managed and the county or state will step in and manage the basin if locals do not.
“The water district’s structure guarantees a fair balance and representation for rural voters, ranchers, farmers and vineyard owners,” the supporters’ ballot argument states. “The nine-member board will be made up of people who live here locally and who have skin in the game.”
Opponents argue that the water district is unnecessary because it will duplicate ongoing groundwater management efforts by the county. They also argue that the district will create a new $1 million tax burden for basin residents and infringe on property rights.
“The proposed district would have the authority to put meters on your well, charge you for every drop of water you pump, and enter your property for regulatory purposes,” the opponents’ ballot argument states.
The sprawling Paso Robles groundwater basin covers 790 square miles of the North County and is one of the largest basins in the state. Decades of over-pumping by farmers and residents have caused aquifers to drop by more than 70 feet or more in some areas. State water officials have given the Paso basin a high priority for management.