A pair of high profile challengers has floated to the surface in a crowded race for four open seats on the Rancho California Water District board.
Five challengers are pitted against four entrenched incumbents in the Aug. 29 mail ballot election. One challenger has repeatedly fallen short in his bids to win a Temecula council seat. Another is the wife of a longtime manager who has been a key figure in Temecula and Fallbrook water circles.
The five challengers are seeking entry to a board that has experienced scant turnover in recent decades. The Temecula-area district serves a sprawling region that has been inundated by waves of growth over the past 30 years.
Four incumbents – Steve Corona, Ben Drake, John Hoagland and William Plummer – are each seeking another four-year term. The four, who all won re-election in 2013 – have together amassed about 60 years on the seven-member board, according to district records.
Plummer’s 12 years on the board is the shortest tenure of the four incumbents. Lisa Herman has the longest tenure of any current board member. She was first elected to the board in September 1991.
Corona is a farmer and business owner. He has served as president of the Riverside County Farm Bureau and held other leadership posts. Drake owns a grove, vineyard and farm management company. Hoagland works as a water manager and consultant. Plummer is a retired water resources engineer who has been active in other aspects of the industry.
The five challengers are Carol Lee Brady, Angel Garcia, James “J” Konrad, Mark Schabel and Lou Williams. Of the five, Brady and Garcia have cultivated the most name recognition.
Garcia unsuccessfully ran for the Temecula council in 2014 and 2016. He is a businessman who has also sought an appointment to the council. Brady owns a vineyard in Temecula’s wine country and is active with that area’s winegrowers association and its resource conservation district.
Brady’s husband, Brian, is the general manager of the Fallbrook Public Utility District. Brian Brady brought a long history with Rancho to his FPUD post.
Brian Brady served as Rancho California Water District’s general manager from 2003 to 2008. He won a seat on the board in August 2011, but was barred from serving because of a potential conflict of interest with his FPUD position.
Brian Brady has been a polarizing figure in Fallbrook-area water politics. He drew sharp criticism during a failed attempt to merge FPUD with the neighboring Rainbow Municipal Water District. The proposed merger sparked considerable acrimony in the community before it was rejected by a San Diego County boundary-setting agency in September 2015.
Rancho California Water District traces its roots to 1965, where it started out in a tiny wooden building on the former Vail Ranch headquarters site.
It now serves a 100,000-acre area – approximately 150 square miles – that is home to about 150,000 people and encompasses Temecula and parts of Murrieta, French Valley, the Santa Rosa Plateau and the wine country.
About 30 percent of the district’s water supply comes from its vast underground supplies. Rancho California Water District relies on that source to meet much of its residential, commercial and agricultural demands.
The district owns Vail Lake, which was created in 1948 after the owners of Vail Ranch erected a dam on Temecula Creek, one of several main tributaries of the Santa Margarita River. Vail Lake is about 10 miles east of Temecula. The water held there is used by Rancho to recharge its underground basins.
Once largely anchored by local farmers and growers, the board slowly absorbed a mix of business, development and water industry representatives over the past few decades. But the arrival of new faces to the dais has occurred sporadically over the past three decades.
In recent years, the governing board has become a steppingstone to higher office.
James “Stew” Stewart was elected to the water district board in December 2011 after at least two unsuccessful campaigns for a seat on the Temecula City Council. Stewart served four years on water district board before he was elected to the Temecula council in November 2016.
A resident of Temecula since 1991, Stewart owns several barber shops in the region. He tapped customers, friends and acquaintances in his bids for his Rancho Water and Temecula council seats.
Some elected officials from other water districts in the region have also leveraged their board credentials to win higher office. Kevin Jeffries is perhaps the best local example.
Jeffries’ election to the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District in 1990 fueled his move to the larger Western Municipal Water District eight years later. He subsequently served in the state Assembly and was elected to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in November 2012.
Three of the Rancho California Water District challengers – Konrad, Schabel and Williams – entered the race with scant name recognition and no political or government experience. They bring a range of professional and community experience to the race.
Konrad is a 22-year resident of Temecula who listed his occupation as a business owner. His candidate statement said he wants to approach the area’s water challenges as a consumer and a businessman.
Schabel listed his occupation as a consulting winemaker. His candidate statement details his education, his vineyard involvement and his water service and job creation goals.
Williams described himself as a health care provider with 20 years’ experience in the field. He cited his water supply and rate concerns and noted that he serves as a volunteer track coach and that his daughter is a student at Temecula Valley High School.
Carol Brady detailed her education and noted her procurement and leadership work in electrical and water utilities and in the engineering and construction of power plants. She said her experiences would give the water board “a balanced perspective and fresh ideas.”
Her candidate statement quoted an old saw pertaining to water, and it also featured a sweeping statement that could be seen as swipe at the water district’s management or operations.
“We have been short on rain, short on funds and frustrated by some career bureaucrats who seem short on common sense,” her statement said. “I understand and share your concerns.”
Garcia is the only challenger who was openly critical of some the district’s policies. He vowed to keep water rates low, streamline business practices and eliminate waste and abuse.
Garcia’s candidate statement said he would, if elected, “address RCWD high executives’ salaries and perks” whenever the board pondered its next rate increase. He cited a source, Transparent California, when he stated that a Rancho California Water District assistant general manager was paid more than the president of the United States in 2015.
“Enough is enough! Stop the increase! Cut the fat!” Garcia said in his candidate statement.