Political newcomer wins seat on turnover-resistant water board

A Temecula-area business insider has won a rare victory to a water district board that has experienced scant turnover in recent decades.

Roger Ziemer recently captured a seat on the seven-member Rancho California Water District. Four incumbents – Steve Corona, Ben Drake, John Hoagland and William Plummer – defeated numerous challengers to win four-year terms following last month’s mail election.

The five directors will begin their terms in December.

By scratching out a victory, Ziemer accomplished a rare feat within two of Temecula’s high-profile political jurisdictions. Rancho’s board, along with the Temecula City Council, has largely been insulated from wholesale changes among its elected leaders.

“I’m really pleased to be part of it,” Ziemer said in a telephone interview that touched on his no-stone-left-unturned campaign. “I really put a lot of effort into this.”

Ziemer said his campaign – which drew upon the support of Joan Sparkman, Dennis Frank and several other local leaders – spent “upwards of $10,000.” That money was spent on roadside signs, an internet site, a mass mailer, meet-and-greet gatherings and other activities. Ziemer even waved a campaign sign near busy intersections in a bid to win votes.

The campaign – which pitted Ziemer against a former school district superintendent – may have signaled a heightened political profile for the district. It might have also set a new benchmark for name recognition and fundraising ability in future Rancho races.

Ziemer brought an impressive resume to the race for a two-year term on the board. He worked for 34 years as a spokesman and government liaison for the Southern California Gas Company. He has or is currently serving on the boards of Southwest Healthcare Systems, Southwest California Economic Development Council and the Temecula and Murrieta chambers of commerce.

Ziemer is a member and past president of the Murrieta Temecula Group, an invitation-only organization of local and regional political and business leaders. He is also a member of a volunteer group that advises the Eastern Municipal Water District, a wholesale supplier, on key issues.

Yet Ziemer’s opponent brought an equally impressive resume to his campaign.

Roland Skumawitz spent much of his 35-year career as an educator in a fast-growing school district near Perris. He served as superintendent of Romoland School District for 19 years, a position that required a close working relationship with Eastern Municipal. He has also been active with the Murrieta Temecula Group, the United Way and the United Communities Network.

Skumawitz has twice occupied a Rancho seat that has been roiled by turnover in recent years. Such turnover is rare at the district that can trace its roots to 1965, where it started out in a tiny wooden building on the former Vail Ranch headquarters site.

Skumawitz was one of a dozen hopefuls who submitted applications in December 2010 to replace outgoing director Ralph Daily, who stepped down after serving 23 years on the board. Skumawitz subsequently filled the remaining one-year of Daily’s term.

Skumawitz returned to the board in January 2012, when he was appointed to serve instead of Brian Brady. Brady had won a board seat in August 2011, but he was barred from serving because of a possible conflict with his professional position as general manager of the Fallbrook Public Utility District, a post he still holds.

Rancho serves a 100,000-acre area – approximately 150 square miles – that is home to about 135,000 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 relies on that source to meet much of its residential, commercial and agricultural demands.

The district also owns the water rights to 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 Margarita River. Vail Lake is about 10 miles east of Temecula. The water held there is used by the water district to recharge its underground basins.

Once largely anchored by local farmers and growers, Rancho’s board has slowly experienced an influx of business, developer and water industry representatives over the past few decades. But the arrival of new faces at Rancho’s long, curved dais has rarely occurred during that period.

The four incumbents who won re-election last month – Corona, Drake, Hoagland and Plummer – have together amassed about 44 years on the board, according to district records. Plummer’s eight years on the board is the shortest tenure of the four incumbents.

The district’s most senior director – Lisa Herman – was first elected to the board in September 1991.

Ziemer will join one other relative newcomer on Rancho’s board. James “Stew” Stewart was elected to the district board in December 2011 after at least two unsuccessful campaigns for a seat on the Temecula City Council. Stewart is a barber who owns several shops in the area.

No Rancho director has made the leap to a Temecula council seat in recent decades.

In all, just 13 people have served on the Temecula council over the city’s nearly 23-year history. By the time of the next election cycle in November 2014, the five current council members will together have served more than 65 years, according to city records.

Only one incumbent – Karel Lindemans – has lost a re-election bid since Temecula became a city in December 1989, according to city records.

Lindemans was elected to the first council when Temecula became a city. He failed to win re-election in November 1992, which is when Ron Roberts and Jeff Stone were picked by voters. Peg Moore, another member of the original council, did not seek re-election because she planned to move out of state.

Lindemans returned to the council in November 1994. He served for another five years before opting not to seek re-election and move to the Palm Springs area. Stone was later elected to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, a post he still holds. Roberts continues to serve on the Temecula council.

Maryann Edwards is the only current council member to shift from another elected panel. Edwards was an appointed member of Temecula’s Traffic / Public Safety Commission from 1998 until 2001, which is when she was elected to the Temecula Valley Unified School District governing board. She was appointed to the City Council in 2005, and has repeatedly won re-election to the post.

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