Two incumbents, pair of high-profile challengers win seats in crowded RCWD board election

Two longtime Temecula-area water district directors easily won re-election, but two others were ousted by a pair of high-profile challengers in the recent election for Rancho California Water District board members.

One of the successful challengers, Angel Garcia, tasted victory, after repeatedly falling short in his bids to win seats on the Temecula school board and the Temecula City Council.

The other winning challenger, Carol Lee Brady, is a political newcomer who is the wife of a prominent figure in Temecula and Fallbrook water circles.

Incumbents William Plummer and Ben Drake held on to their seats by finishing first and second respectively in a crowded race for four open seats on the Rancho California Water District board. But incumbents Steve Corona and John Hoagland lost the board seats that they had each held for the past 16 years.

Drake theorized that many voters were seeking a new mix on Rancho’s board when they marked their ballots in the recent mail election.

“I think sometimes there needs to be a change on boards,” Drake said in a postelection telephone interview. “Sometimes it’s good to have a little shake-up.”

Plummer, who did scant campaigning in the nine-candidate race, finished first with 14.2 percent of the votes cast. He is a retired water resources engineer who has served on RCWD’s board for the past 12 years.

Drake, who finished second with 12.8 percent of the votes, was first elected to the board in September 2001. He owns a grove, vineyard and farm management company.

Garcia, a businessman, finished third with 12.8 percent of the votes. Garcia made his first foray into politics when he unsuccessfully ran for the Temecula school board in 2010 at age 18. He unsuccessfully ran for the Temecula council in 2014 and 2016.

Brady captured the fourth available seat by netting 12.2 percent of the votes. Brady owns a vineyard in Temecula’s wine country and is active with that area’s winegrowers association and its resource conservation district.

Her husband, Brian Brady, is a former RCWD general manager who now holds that post for the nearby Fallbrook Public Utility District.

Challenger Lou Williams finished fifth with 11.6 percent, but he did not win a seat. He edged out Corona and Hoagland; both of whom were elected to the board in September 2001.

Corona is a farmer and business owner. He has served as president of the Riverside County Farm Bureau and held other leadership posts. Hoagland works as a water manager and consultant.

Challengers James “J” Konrad and Mark Schabel finished eighth and ninth respectively. They did not actively campaign, and they had scant name recognition in local political circles.

Rancho California Water District traces its roots to 1965, when it started out in a tiny wooden building on the former Vail Ranch headquarters site.

Today, RCWD 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 wine country.

About 30 percent of the district’s water supply comes from underground supplies. RCWD 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 to recharge its underground basins.

Once largely anchored by local farmers and growers, RCWD’s seven-member 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.

Part of Carol Lee Brady’s name recognition can be attributed to her husband. Brian Brady served as RCWD’s general manager from 2003 to 2008. He won a seat on the board in August 2011 but was barred from serving due to 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.

Carol Brady’s candidate statement said her experiences would give RCWD’s board “a balanced perspective and fresh ideas.” Three attempts to reach her for a telephone interview were unsuccessful. Another message left at Brian Brady’s FPUD office also went unanswered.

Garcia’s accessibility stands in sharp contrast to Brady’s. Garcia was the only candidate to list his phone number in his candidate statement; an action he said netted him more than 50 calls in the weeks leading to the election.

Garcia, 25, said his candidate statement served as a magnet that won him the attention and support of many voters.

He was the only challenger whose statement was openly critical of some of the board’s policies. He vowed to “address RCWD high executives’ salaries and perks” whenever the board ponders its next rate increase.

His statement declared, “Enough is enough! Stop the increase! Cut the fat!”

That message resonated with voters, Garcia said in a postelection phone interview. He said he plans to bring the same accessibility and candid appraisals to his board position.

“You’ve seen what I bring to the table and I’m not one to hold back,” he said. “I don’t intend to be shy in this post, but at the same time I don’t mean to be combative. I’m looking forward to serving with the other board members. That’s what leadership’s all about.”

Drake said in his interview that both newcomers will have a “sharp learning curve” ahead of them when they take office.

He said the RCWD board will lose a pair of directors who have vast experience in water issues and district management nuances. Conversely, Drake said board turnover can benefit the district by interjecting a fresh perspective on Rancho issues and policies.

“Change is good sometimes,” Drake said. He said that Garcia might come to realize the wisdom behind many of the decisions made by past RCWD boards and administrators.

“I think he’s got a tremendous amount to learn,” Drake said.

Drake said he hopes that the board newcomers don’t view their RCWD posts as a “steppingstone” to higher office.

Some elected officials in the region and state have begun their public service by serving as water district directors before they sought higher posts. One such instance has occurred in recent memory in water board politics.

James “Stew” Stewart was elected to the board in December 2011 after at least two unsuccessful campaigns for a seat on the Temecula City Council. Stewart served four years on RCWD’s 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.

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