Last May I championed the separation of the Zone 7 Water Agency from Alameda County in my blog, Set Zone 7 Free. Then when State Senator Mark DeSaulnier pulled the plug on his bill, SB1337, I was left Screaming in the Forest.
Well Zone 7 still wants to separate itself from Alameda County, and so the Agency wants to take another shot at separation.
Zone 7's General Manager, Jill Duerig emailed me "that the Zone 7 Administrative Committee will be meeting at 1 pm on Thursday, August 2, 2012 to discuss separation next steps." I was glad to hear it and wanted to attend this meeting.
So I drove over to the Zone 7 building in Livermore expecting to see a small group of people in a subcommittee meeting. The chamber room was full with about 60 people in the audience and another 18 around a horseshoe shaped table on the right side.
This group was composed of members of two committees, the MAT (Management Advisory Committee) and the SAT (Staff Advisory Committee), which put together recommendations for six different separation options, with pros and cons for each one.
The Board's Administrative Committee, consisting of Directors John Greci, Bill Stevens, and Sarah Palmer, was on the dais. Greci asked if anyone knew the reasons for separation. I raised my hand and said "to give Dougherty Valley residents a say." Greci nodded yes, but that wasn't the answer he wanted. He wants to cut the red tape required by Alameda County for hiring and training new employees and buying new equipment.
He also wants 100% buy-in from the employees. That's what this meeting was really about. Greci asked the team members who supported separation and who didn't. Fifteen of the 18 members raised their hands in support, but three raised their hands against it. A similar small group of employees in the audience also stood up against separation.
Greci assured employees, "I will not vote for a change if all employees are not on board. We care about our employees and we have to meet voters' needs." Director Bill Stevens was even more emphatic. "We're going to protect you. That's number one."
Greci described the red tape Alameda County puts on Zone 7 to get anything done. Hiring a new employee takes 54 signatures and 18 months. Training is a big expense, and then the County could take the employee away. Stevens said "It all comes down to money and power. We want to retain our employees."
The committees presented six options for separation. Number 6 is "do nothing," so that's not really an option. Number 1 is "Pursue separation via legislation – including Flood Control." This is essentially Senator DeSaulnier's bill, AB1337, which was put on hold last May but is still in the Assembly pipeline.
This option was preferred by the Directors at the meeting. In fact three other options – leaving Flood Control with the County, Pursue separation through LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission), or by a Referendum, were hardly discussed.
Option 4 would be to continue to operate under AB1125, which was passed by Assemblyman Guy Houston in 2003. AB1125 gives the Zone 7 Board defacto autonomy from Alameda County.
Look at the Alameda County Organizational Chart and you will see a direct line from the Electorate to the Zone 7 Board with another connection from Alameda County voters to County Supervisors.
The missing link however is to Dougherty Valley. Residents of Contra Costa County are still not able to vote for Zone 7 under Houston's AB1125; so for me Option 4 is unacceptable. Zone 7 Board President Sarah Palmer supports the importance of representation for Dougherty Valley.
Director Stevens took some shots at the recent Alameda County Grand Jury Report on the separation, calling it "BS and all made up." The report citied Zone 7's reliance on Alameda County for support services, "such as payroll, budget, accounting, purchasing, human resources, and risk management," and said it would "be more appropriate to consolidate with the various cities and water districts to which Zone 7 sells water . . ."
In fact when I first read about the separation my thought was that Zone 7 and DSRSD could merge into a combined agency and cut duplication of costs. This might be one of the concerns employees have about the separation. While Zone 7 isn't planning to merge with DSRSD, General Manager, Jill Duerig, said that some services could be combined.
Lori Rose, Financial Services Manager at DSRSD, spoke at the end of the meeting saying she supports separation but she wants more information on Flood Control. Flood Control appears to be the big stumbling block for separation. Director Greci said it is a priority to keep Flood Control.
Alameda County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to Zone 7, date stamped June 22, 2012, supporting Zone 7's separation "as a water district only," and listing reasons why the County should retain Flood Control.
One of the team members, Pony Yin, recalled a lot of flooding in the past. There isn't any more because Zone 7's Flood Control is so successful. Stevens said, "We have to fight the politicians. I'm an engineer. I don't do politics."
The Alameda County Grand Jury got one thing right in their report, "To push for consolidations without strong support from the agencies involved (and their boards) or a large group of active citizens would be very difficult politically."
The meeting closed with Greci urging the employees to tell their friends and neighbors about Zone 7 and the flood control to get public support behind the separation. So I'm following up on that request by urging Dougherty Valley residents to speak up about Zone 7.
It's your water. Tell Senator DeSaulnier and Assemblywoman Buchanan you want to vote in Zone 7 elections. Tell Mayor Clarkson and our City Council San Ramon residents deserve representation on Zone 7.
Our Founding Fathers fought a Revolution over Taxation without Representation. Zone 7 wants you to be represented. Shouldn't you want that too?