Water leaders are looking deeper into whether signature gatherers committed fraud to prompt a recall of Oakdale Irrigation District board member Linda Santos, throwing into question the status of the April 25 ballot.
In other action Tuesday evening, staff unveiled potential boundaries for voting divisions within OID and announced that the district expects to sell no surplus Stanislaus River water this year to outsiders – a major source of income in years past. The board did agree to offer water to local farmers just outside OID boundaries at $60 an acre-foot.
The board voted 4-1 behind closed doors, with Herman Doornenbal dissenting, to explore evidence that some people were tricked into signing petitions asking for Santos’ recall. An investigation by OID’s attorney will help determine if the board should ask a judge to cancel the ballot.
People in the audience Tuesday, including Fran Bryant, provided four accounts of petitioners trying to persuade people to sign petitions by telling them it would help stop local water from being sold to Southern California – a hot-button issue for many in this area as state officials consider cutting local farmers’ share of river water. In reality, the petitions urged Santos’ recall.
For democracy to work, a necessary ingredient is that people be told the truth. ... There is ample evidence to show that fraud has been committed.
Robert Frobose, OID customer
“This is not really about Director Santos but about (others) staying in power,” Jamie Coston said. “Why would recall proponents go to such great lengths to lie about a recall petition?”
Bryant said the 2015 elections of Santos and Gail Altieri – both defeated longtime incumbents – “must have been a shock” to the other three. The women then “asked too many questions, so the three male board members had them evicted (from some meetings, in a lawsuit) in order to go on with their secretive, often-illegal plans,” Bryant said.
To continue this petty pickin’ nonsense day in, day out is unheard of. We voted these people in to protect our water and that’s what we want done.
Karla Schwoerer, OID customer
Much of Tuesday’s fireworks came after two options were presented for adjusting boundaries of OID’s five voting divisions. One option appears designed to preserve the current power structure by ensuring that board member Gary Osmundson keeps his seat after moving to a new home in a few months, and several people, including Coston, Bryant and Kathe Poteet, suggested he not participate in the boundaries decision, to avoid a conflict.
It’s very unfair that social media calls us good ol’ boys and this and that.
Steve Webb, OID board
Osmundson – who joins with Doornenbal and Steve Webb to form the board majority – said he bought land for a new home long before he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the OID board, in spring 2015. He previously told The Modesto Bee he has had nothing to do with the two proposals.
Board members must live in divisions they represent, and in the first option, he would have to quit the board upon moving. A line in his current division moves over in the second option to include his new property, prompting accusations of gerrymandering. That proposal also features an odd marbling of voting divisions, including noncontiguous islands and a large peninsula; such features are frowned upon in typical redistricting principles.
The Stanislaus County civil grand jury last week blasted OID for defying state and federal law by failing to resize after both the 2000 and 2010 censuses. Santos and Altieri were elected after The Bee exposed the foot-dragging in 2015; if their predecessors had followed the law, petitioners would have had to gather double the signatures for Santos’ recall.
There is more equal representation for people in the city (with Option 2). Everyone has an almost equal say.
Evan Longstreth, OID customer
OID customer Evan Longstreth said the option favoring Osmundson gives a better balance of owners of small, medium and large parcel sizes among the five voting divisions.
The district’s plan for selling or not selling water to outsiders this year was not on the agenda, but came up as the board discussed how much to charge growers just outside OID boundaries for river water.
“There will be no water sales at all this year” to buyers south of the Delta, General Manager Steve Knell said. Federal officials are worried, he said, about the strain already on levees in and near the San Joaquin Delta from high river flows, which are expected to continue through summer as snow melts from record winter storms. OID has reaped more than $50 million in recent years from such sales.
Santos questioned the wisdom of selling water to adjacent farmers at a loss, according to delivery cost estimates previously provided by Knell. Doornenbal said enticing some to use surface water rather than pumping groundwater could help protect the water table and bring cash that otherwise would not materialize.
“We’re blessed with substantial rain and snowpack and we need to help our neighbors,” Doornenbal said, and the others unanimously agreed. “The cheaper it is, the more they’ll use.”
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390