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April 23, 2021

Here we go again: Director’s resignation hurts community

Residents of the San Lorenzo Valley are blessed in many ways. The beauty of our surroundings greets us each day; our neighbors are generally kind and helpful, and, well, neighborly. Employees of local shops and restaurants know our names, our favorite drinks or our regular orders. Residents are unfailingly generous when a family, a local business or a nonprofit agency find themselves in need. We band together in the face of hardships and tragedies—fires, mudslides, power outages and more—to provide support and comfort to our neighbors. We are the best of what small town living means, and we embrace and celebrate our environment’s nooks and crannies.

Local agencies find themselves enveloped in that care and comfort. Our fire departments found themselves battling a convergence of flames and fear during the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire, and were acknowledged and rewarded with donations, food and letters of appreciation for their efforts. Camp Krem was hit with repeated hardships starting in spring of 2020, and residents rallied around the effort to raise money to help them replace and rebuild what had been lost. Likewise, the San Lorenzo Valley Water District (SLVWD) suffered catastrophic losses in the CZU fire, and residents shared their appreciation for the staff’s management of the agency in the wake of the flames.

Now comes a new challenge for our Valley: coping with the absence of yet another director from the SLV Water District. Tina Marie To, a mere three months into a four-year term, submitted an immediately-effective resignation on March 18, leaving her colleagues and constituents adrift and disappointed. She attributed her sudden departure to the rigors of law school, which she began in January, and raising a family, but the goal posts for water district service have remained firmly in place. The amount of time required by directors surged during the time of the CZU fire, but has somewhat stabilized in the last 2-3 months. Board members are expected to attend two meetings per month, sit on one or more committees, review agendas that can run hundreds of pages, and entertain emails and phone calls from residents and reporters alike.

To’s departure from her seat means the board, and the community, will suffer through another process of replacement. Whether by appointment or election, SLV residents are now relegated to again endure a months-long process of seating a new director, and the district is forced to contend with a potentially brand new slate of directors come November 2022. The learning curve for a directorship is steep, and those who might consider running for a seat shouldn’t undertake that process lightly.

What really hurts is that SLV voters put their faith in To. When To entered the race and ran for a directorship, we believed that To (who came in second behind Gail Mahood on a four-person ballot for two seats) understood and would honor her commitment. After a series of losses (a million gallons of water and destroyed infrastructure) to the district, ratepayers were looking for some stability. We wanted a board of directors that would aid residents in their recovery; a board that would align with its constituents to return them to normalcy. A board that would work as hard for its ratepayers as we all required.

Instead, we are left with a four-person board, with three of the members’ terms expiring in 2022, meaning we will have just over a year before we are once again bombarded with campaign literature, front-yard signage and the promise of service to the community, all while our board contemplates the idea of a merger with Scotts Valley Water District, signs the papers for a $15 million loan and attempts to move the district forward in a pandemic.

To, a relative newcomer to our area, seemed to want to serve in a governmental agency—any agency. The March 2020 candidate watch for 5th District Supervisor reveals that To pulled papers for a run, though she never filed. The same thing occurred with a June 2018 attempt at State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and another for the Board of Supervisors that same year.

To’s actions look more like an attempt to polish her resumé rather than looking for an opportunity to serve her community. Residents of our community were looking for fidelity—and we still are. We contacted To for comment on her resignation but she instead chose only to stand by her statement of her commitment to law school.

As mentioned in the SLVWD article on page 1, the district is not in the position to spend $70,000 on a special election. Fiscal conservatives will advocate for an appointment, and they’ll be right in their concern for the district’s bottom line. But like elections, appointments have consequences. The power of thousands of voters will be offset by the consideration of just four voices, and that mutes the district’s ratepayers.

We deserve to have a new director that supports the mission of the water district while serving the needs of its ratepayers. We deserve a board that listens to us, that understands the concerns held by those who endured hardships from the fire—lost homes, lost water, lost opportunities. We as a community have the responsibility to share our views with the remaining directors, and invite them to advocate for us as readily as we voted them into their seats.

Contact Press Banner reporter Christina Wise at [email protected].

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