If most voters southeast of town decline to recall Linda Santos in an April 25 special election, she would keep her Division 4 seat on the Oakdale Irrigation District board.
If she is turned out of office, Nate Ludlow would take her place. He is the only candidate running to succeed Santos, after the late withdrawal of a woman who said she was spooked by early-morning vandals outside her rural home.
Ludlow, 40, said he hasn’t taken sides in the board’s political warfare leading to two lawsuits and the recall drive. He wants to repair damaged relationships and build unity, he said.
“We’re all in this together, and I think there needs to be a lot of mending of fences,” Ludlow said. “I’m here for a solution, not a fight. I’m here to hopefully bring a calming influence.”
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I’m here for a solution, not a fight. I’m here to hopefully bring a calming influence.
Nate Ludlow, OID board candidate
Santos and Gail Altieri easily swept aside longtime incumbents Al Bairos and Frank Clark, respectively, in the November 2015 election, but quickly found themselves on the short end of frequent 2-3 board votes. Board members Steve Webb, Herman Doornenbal and Gary Osmundson eventually sued to keep the women from closed-door huddles on a separate fallowing lawsuit, although a judge in October let Santos and Altieri back in.
Some OID growers frustrated at the dysfunction launched a drive to recall Santos, 63, saying she hasn’t represented their interests. A drive for signatures to qualify the recall was a sham, her supporters say; petitioners would have had to gather about twice the number if former board members had followed the law and resized voting districts after the 2010 census.
Bernie Van Diepen, 62, said she threw her hat in the ring alongside Ludlow’s to give voters an option for carrying on Santos’ openness crusade should Santos be recalled. Van Diepen completed a candidacy application, prepared for a couple of weeks and filed a ballot statement.
But early Wednesday, “at 3 a.m. I heard a bunch of trucks out in front of my house that woke me up,” she said. “I couldn’t go back to sleep and now there are big tire tracks in my (unlandscaped property), big ruts in the ground.”
Van Diepen, who is single, doesn’t scare easily, she said. But someone had stolen a Santos campaign sign from her yard a few days before, and she worried how her campaign might affect her brother, a longtime OID ditch tender, so she called it off and withdrew.
She doesn’t know who drove onto her property and would prefer that the matter fade, she said.
“I feel strongly that Linda is not going to be recalled,” Van Diepen said. “That’s what I’m counting on.”
Ludlow condemned the vandalism.
“We all work hard for our properties,” he said. “It’s not fair to be destructive. That’s her home. I don’t know what to chalk that up to, but it’s not right and it shouldn’t be done to anyone.”
Supporters of the board majority and OID General Manager Steve Knell several months ago formed a group with a website and erected large signs around the Oakdale area hailing OID’s “abundant water, lowest cost, best management.” Next to them, new signs of identical size, color and print font supporting Ludlow’s candidacy have appeared, but he downplays a perceived alignment with the old guard.
“I’m aligned with making change,” Ludlow said. “It’s OK to have a controversy, but it’s more important to communicate and come to a solution together. Both sides are passionate about water. We need to come to medium ground.”
April 25 Special election for OID recall, Division 4
Ludlow, a project manager at Oakdale’s Crown Painting, was raised in Modesto, graduated in 1995 from Johansen High School and moved 14 years ago to Oakdale. His wife’s family had 26 acres of pasture where he grew corn and oats before idling it after signing up for OID’s 2016 fallowing program.
He was among the growers who publicly complained that OID didn’t live up to its end of the deal; the proposal fell apart for time constraints and after a judge ruled that OID must address environmental impacts of selling river water to outsiders.
Ludlow said he’s quite concerned about a state proposal restricting irrigation in favor of more river water benefiting fish. He also favors better relations with neighboring water agencies such as the Modesto Irrigation District, whose canals would be crucial for moving water to some others contracting to buy OID water.
“Controversy is not going to get you progress,” Ludlow said. “We need to have forward movement to make OID better. We need to talk with our neighbors and build those relationships.”
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390