A public debate and intense social media campaigning have brought into sharp focus the clear differences between candidates for the Oakdale Irrigation District.
The most noticeable: Brad DeBoer and incumbent Herman Doornenbal represent how things have been going, while Grover Francis and Don Taro urge major change.
“The choice is pretty clear here, folks. Do you want it to continue the way it has been?” Francis said at the forum.
He and DeBoer are vying for the Division 5 seat left open since former board member Gary Osmundson resigned in July, while Taro is challenging two-term incumbent Herman Doornenbal in Division 2.
I want to make sure the district gets ran properly. Now it’s running like a wheel with a flat tire.
Don Taro, challenger, Division 2
“People have got to grow up and run (OID) as a business and not as a cat and mouse game. It’s silly,” Taro said.
The names Francis and Taro have been associated with OID in years past, because Francis held a board seat from 1998 to 2001, and Taro’s father held another from 1993 to 2009. They clearly are outsiders, however – quick to criticize the board’s recent legal trouble and urging a return to civility.
DeBoer calls himself a peacemaker and consensus builder as well. But he shares a water-selling philosophy embraced in recent years by Doornenbal, General Manager Steve Knell and the board majority since the minority – Gail Altieri and Linda Santos – were elected two years ago.
Water is the new gold in California. We have a fantastic gold mine that produces for us every year. ... People want our water like in the Gold Rush people wanted to take the gold.
Brad DeBoer, Division 5 candidate
“I think I have a fresh, clear vision of things,” DeBoer said. “I’m willing to look at things that may help bring some cohesiveness to the board. ... Not every mountain is a mountain you have to die on. You can give sometimes.”
He and Doornenbal defended selling water to wealthy outsiders, bringing $50 million in the past decade to help modernize OID’s canals and operations.
“Water sales keep our district flush,” Doornenbal said. “It’s the reason why we have some of the lowest rates in the state.”
Francis and Taro took a different view, Francis warning that OID’s wheeling and dealing have attracted unwanted attention of state water officials, and Taro advocating that OID simply “live within our budget.”
Division 2 is north of Oakdale, including Escalon and part of San Joaquin County
The forum was hosted by the Stanislaus League of Women Voters on the same day that a judge ruled that OID must pay $213,593 in attorneys’ fees for opponents of a fallowing proposal. The ruling gave Francis and Taro an opening for railing.
The award “comes out of our taxes,” Francis said. “It’s reprehensible that OID operates in this manner.”
“That cost taxpayers a lot money,” Taro agreed. “That money was wasted. ... It’s totally ridiculous and it’s why I’m running.”
Opponents, calling themselves the Oakdale Groundwater Alliance, challenged the fallowing proposal, saying OID should have first performed studies looking at the effect on groundwater when river water is shipped elsewhere. Stanislaus Judge Roger Beauchesne agreed in April, and last week ordered OID to cover the group’s legal expenses.
Division 5 is mostly south and west of Oakdale
The alliance “has bestowed an important public benefit through the lawsuit specifically because it prioritized the availability of surface water” for locals, reducing the need for pumping, Beauchesne said in the decision.
Doornenbal said he wasn’t aware of the ruling, but called “totally false” any accusations that OID has sold water illegally or “under the table.” DeBoer also said the district’s water sales have been conducted above board and with state approval.
I love OID. We do a lot of great things for the community. ... To me, it’s not a position – it’s a job, a job I love very, very much.
Herman Doornenbal, incumbent, Division 2
Doornenbal said, “We’re transparent,” drawing laughter in the audience. “You can laugh all you want; we are transparent. Ask any question, we’ll do our best to give you an answer.”
Some in the audience also chuckled when DeBoer said the atmosphere at board meetings is “fine; people are friendly.”
It hurts me to see these things happening. It’s never operated like this before and should not now. ... It will take a steady hand to get us out of it.
Grover Francis, Division 5 candidate
Francis said things went much smoother when he served nearly two decades ago, in contrast to “the hoohaw it is now, with a lot of long faces.”
Before Osmundson left, the board majority also sued to keep Altieri and Santos out of some closed sessions; the majority lost, but have appealed.
A third board seat is being vacated by Steve Webb after 31 years and will be claimed by newcomer Tom Orvis.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390