OID’s Santos denounces recall drive

Linda Santos, OID board member
Linda Santos, OID board member

Those seeking a recall of Linda Santos from the Oakdale Irrigation District board are resorting to “outright lies, malicious rumors and unfounded accusations,” Santos said in a strongly worded response.

“Who is bankrolling this campaign of lies?” Santos asked in her official reply. She urged those people to grill those who signed a recall notice, including some prominent farmers and ranchers. The recall notice is “vague and designed to deceive,” said Santos, elected by a landslide nearly 10 months ago.

The recall notice had accused her of favoring unnamed “friends, campaign contributors and special interests” and “put(ting) petty politics over her constituents.”

Recall proponents must submit a petition form by Friday to the Stanislaus County elections office, Clerk-Recorder Lee Lundrigan said Tuesday. Eventually they would be given 60 days to gather signatures of 25 percent of the voters, or about 390, in OID’s Division 4 southeast of Oakdale, to prompt a recall election.

If (OID) management would change its focus to beneficial use rather than monetary gain as the only incentive, we would have a much healthier district.

Linda Santos, OID board

Santos, who typically asks searching questions at board meetings, believes she is being targeted because “I’m not willing to just blindly go along.”

She and Gail Altieri, campaigning for transparency, easily ousted incumbents in November and now often end up on the losing end of 3-2 decisions, outvoted by board members Steve Webb, Herman Doornenbal and Gary Osmundson. The majority successfully sued the women to bar them from closed-door strategy and votes on a fallowing lawsuit facing OID.

It’s logical for those favoring the old guard to go after Santos, she said in an interview, because her district is much smaller than Altieri’s, making signature gathering a much easier task.

In June 2015 – before Santos and Altieri were elected – The Modesto Bee uncovered OID’s failure to resize its voting districts. Despite state law requiring such an adjustment after the 2010 census, and knowing that OID’s voting districts were wildly unbalanced in 2011, the OID board chose to do nothing until The Bee’s report. The board then hired an engineering firm to suggest how to redraw lines, but a year later it’s not a priority for the district, General Manager Steve Knell said recently when Altieri and people in the audience requested an update.

390 Division 4 signatures needed to prompt an election to recall Linda Santos

1,160 Division 1 signatures needed if detractors had targeted Gail Altieri

Last year, at The Bee’s request, UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies computed deviations in OID’s voting districts and found 8,611 people in Altieri’s northeast Oakdale district, but only 4,398 in Santos’ district. Agencies with population deviations of 5 percent are vulnerable to lawsuits, experts say, while OID’s is more than 72 percent.

Recall rules, however, look at numbers of registered voters in a voting district and not its total population. By that measure, a recall election for Altieri would require about 1,160 signatures, rather than 390 for Santos.

“They know it’s harder to get Gail out than me,” Santos said.

Their detractors are upset that Santos and Altieri favored doing environmental studies before launching a fallowing program that would have paid some growers for idling land from proceeds of selling freed-up water to outsiders. An attorney had warned the 2015 board not to proceed without such studies. A year later the board majority wanted to push ahead, but the women resisted because they had not had time to read lengthy documents provided to them 10 minutes before that March meeting.

I will not vote on something I have not read. I don’t care if the president of the United States tells me it’s a good deal; I’m going to read it before I make a decision.

Linda Santos, OID board

“Why not spend money on an EIR (environmental impact report) so we know if we’re doing something we shouldn’t and we can fix it? Then we’d at least have something to show for our money, instead of spending it to fight against doing the EIR,” Santos said.

Her supporters said they appreciate her work ethic and willingness to stand up for principle.

“She’s doing a great job, reading everything and questioning anything that’s not clear,” said OID customer Dan Dooley. “The recall is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

Karla Schwoerer – a cattle rancher, like Santos – said, “Linda is doing a hell of a job. She’s just trying to do right by the district, and unfortunately she’s getting a raw deal.”

Santos said, “I’m encouraged by the amount of support I’ve had from a majority of people in my district. But I’m disappointed that some people I considered longtime friends didn’t give me the courtesy of asking me about these issues.

“I’m only one vote; I don’t have (unlimited) power,” she continued. “But the truth has a lot of power, so I’ll keep telling it and eventually those accusing me will see the whole truth rather than the bits and pieces they’ve been given.”

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390