Two new faces to join water board after election

The Santa Fe Irrigation District, which provides water to residents and businesses in Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Fairbanks Ranch, will see new faces on its five-member board of directors later this year, as two incumbent directors are stepping down from their seats and will be replaced by candidates running in the Nov. 8 election.

Two candidates each are running for the Div. 1 seat, now held by Greg Gruzdowich, and the Div. 2 seat, now occupied by Alan Smerican. Both incumbents opted not to seek new terms. Directors in the district are elected by division, and Gruzdowich’s division covers mostly Rancho Santa Fe, while Smerican’s is in Solana Beach.

The normally low-profile agency has been in the news quite a bit over the past year or two; first, as California grappled with a severe drought, the state published figures showing that Rancho Santa Fe had the highest per capita water use in the state. Then, the district joined its fellow water agencies across the state in trying to achieve steep cuts in water use imposed by Gov. Jerry Brown and state regulators. Santa Fe’s state-mandated target was to reduce its water use by 36 percent in 2015, which it largely achieved.

Last year, the district commissioned a cost-of-service study, to determine its revenue needs in the coming years and apportion those costs fairly to customers. That study led to a vote earlier this year to raise rates by an a maximum average of 9 percent annually over the next three years, with the first increase taking effect June 1. 

Directors split along geographical lines on a number of key votes, including the rate increase. Gruzdowich and Director Marlene King, who both represent inland divisions with larger lots, voted against the rate plan and other related measures, while Smerican, board president Michael Hogan and Director Augie Daddi, who represent divisions in Solana Beach, a more densely populated area, voted for the measures.

Ken Dunford, who sat on the Santa Fe board for a decade before losing his seat to Gruzdowich in 2012, is running against Derek Clotfelter for the Div. 1 seat. Following are profiles of the Div. 1 candidates, in the order in which they appear on the ballot. Profiles of the candidates for the Div. 2 seat will run next week in this edition.

Derek Clotfelter

Clotfelter, 46, was born in Rancho Santa Fe, where his family has been involved in business and civic affairs for several generations. His grandfather served on the Santa Fe Irrigation District board, and his father served on the board of the Rancho Santa Fe Association. 

Clotfelter moved away with his family when he was a child, and later lived in such diverse places as Spain, Chile, and Portland, Ore., where he pursued a career in the financial services industry. Three years ago, he moved back to Rancho Santa Fe to work with his family’s real estate development business.

Clotfelter and his wife, Marisel, have a son and a daughter who both attend the R. Roger Rowe school in Rancho Santa Fe. He said he was looking for a way to give back to the community, and decided to run for the water board.

“This is an opportunity to get involved and roll up my sleeves and get some work done,” he said.

Among his priorities if elected, he said, are analyzing SFID cost structure, comparing current costs to its historical budgets and other, similar water utilities; working with managers and the board to evaluate rates and charges based on true costs of service; continuing to break down water uses to separate out true residential; and continuing to focus on developing recycled water sources.

The district has already embarked on a number of those initiatives. For example, in the past year, it hired a consultant to conduct a detailed cost of service study to determine revenue needs and how to distribute costs equitably among customers. It is moving forward with a proposal to bring recycled water to the Rancho Santa Fe golf course. And at its September meeting, the board approved an agricultural rate for commercial growers.

Clotfelter praised the district for its work in dealing with the drought and other issues and said he wants to help continue its progress.

He would also like to offer district residents incentives to encourage them to remove lawns and other thirsty plants and replace them with drought-tolerant landscaping.

While Clotfelter has not held elective office before, he said he offers strategic and operational expertise from his work in the financial services business, and also from serving on the board of a nonprofit school his children attended in Oregon. His experience includes helping to forge consensus among people of diverse backgrounds, he said.

As Clotfelter sees is, the community has two good choices with himself and his opponent.

“I’m here to help out the community and this is the way I chose. If it doesn’t work out I’ll find another avenue,” he said. “I’m not going to become a professional politician.”

Ken Dunford

Dunford, a retired civil engineer and businessman, served on the Santa Fe board from 2002 to 2012. A resident of Rancho Santa Fe for 36 years, he also is an elder at the Village Church, and has served on a variety of committees, including the Rancho Santa Fe Art Jury.

He and his wife, Jan, his “high school sweetheart,” have three daughters and six grandchildren. 

With his background in engineering and construction, Dunford said, “I feel I have a lot to offer for work that needs to be done within the district.”

Among his priorities if elected, Dunford said, are maintaining the district’s aging infrastructure, protecting the district from “unfair” state regulations, and continuing to manage costs, from health benefits and pensions to salaries.

Dunford said the district needs to stay on top of maintaining its $300 million system of pipes, pump stations and other infrastructure, which requires expenditures of $5 million to $6 million per year. 

The district has done a good job of keeping costs down, evidenced by its low rates in relation to other San Diego County water agencies and its triple A bond rating, Dunford said. The district must “keep costs under control,” he said, which requires ongoing efforts.

The district also has to look beyond its own borders to the state capitol, where decisions will be made that affect local water agencies, Dunford said, such as last year’s order for drastic cutbacks in water use.

“We must not stand on the sidelines as those things are debated in Sacramento,” he said.

Dunford described himself as “fiscally conservative, “ and said he would have opposed board decisions in recent years to pull funds out of reserves rather than raising rates. And he said he would have supported the rate plan approved on a split vote of the board earlier this year, in contrast to the current Div. 1 incumbent, Greg Gruzdowich, who voted against the measure.

“I would have supported the plan, yes,” Dunford said. “I feel it was done professionally and fairly.”

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