One race this election season will have far-reaching effects on the costs of showers, car washes and water fights in Isla Vista.
The Goleta Water District Board of Directors has two slots available this election season, and the outcome of the race will affect a number of issues for the district’s 75,000 constituents who live between the Santa Barbara city limits and El Capitan State Beach. The board, which oversees issues like water pricing rates and water quality testing standards, has five candidates competing for the seats, who have all said that improving the agency’s effectiveness and maintaining local water quality are their top priorities.
“The purpose of the district is in our mission statement: to supply an adequate supply of quality water to all residents,” GWDB incumbent Jack Cunningham said.
The candidates for the board include geologist Laurie Kurilla, Isla Vista activist Craig Geyer, engineer Bert Bertrando, Goleta farmer Jack Ruskey and Cunningham. The candidates are running on similar platforms, which focus on avoiding new fees and taxes for agricultural firms, in addition to not raising water rates for consumers.
Ruskey and Bertrando, who hope to be voted in together, also want to rid the district’s farmers of an existing fee. Since 1991, all new farmers with agricultural businesses within the district are required to pay a one-time fee of $27,000 per hundred acres owned. Bertrando said the fee has slowed the growth of agriculture in Goleta Valley over the last 15 years, and will continue to do so if it is not repealed. Kurilla also opposes the fee.
“People are getting discouraged,” Bertrando said. “Current farmers are having a hard time.”
Bertrando said he and Ruskey are looking to promote more agricultural growth, protect local farms from rising water prices and have pledged to follow through with their goals by fighting the existing fee and overturning any similar fees proposed in the future.
One issue that has been controversial among the candidates is a proposal to raise consumer water rates.
The board will decide on the initiative when it reconvenes after the elections, Cunningham said. The board will have to approve or reject a financial plan for the next 10 years, and the outcome will decide whether to raise water rates for urban and residential users by 4 percent for the next four years. Rates for the agricultural industry will remain constant, Cunningham said.
Ruskey, Bertrando and Geyer have said that they are against the proposal to raise rates. Cunningham, on the other hand, said he supports the measure.
“I’m an urban user, and I don’t like to pay more money either, but on the same note, I’d like to see agriculture survive,” Cunningham said.
Currently, urban and residential water users subsidize agricultural users by paying more than three times what farmers pay per 100 cubic feet of water, Cunningham said. According to the GWBD website, urban users pay $3.71 for 100 cubic feet, while agricultural users pay one dollar flat.
Kurilla, a UCSB alumnus, said she would like to keep water rates from rising, but is running her campaign specifically on a platform of increased fiscal conservation. She said it is important to secure funds to ensure that the district’s wells will not run dry in the case of a drought.
“We want our district to make sure that they are always doing the right thing during the wet years; holding surplus water, Lake Cachuma spill water … maintain and build reservoirs for storing water,” Kurilla said.
Cunningham said the board’s main source of pride is the quality of water it provides to its constituents. He said he would strive to maintain these standards if reelected.
“Goleta Water District has in the past, and will in the future, meet or beat any state or government mandates as to the quality of the water,” Cunningham said. “We pride ourselves in the fact that we deliver the best quality water in the area.”