Marlene King resigns from Santa Fe Irrigation board

Santa Fe Irrigation District Administration Building.
Santa Fe Irrigation District Administration Building.

(Staff photo)

Marlene King has resigned from the Santa Fe Irrigation District board after six years of service.

Representing Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch, King was elected in November 2014 and served on several committees including the Water Resources, Joint Facilities Advisory, Administrative and Finance, and Water Facilities Financing Authority.

“I loved serving the interests of the customers in Division 3,” King said. “It was a very difficult decision to resign with two years left of my term.”

The board members accepted King’s resignation at their Dec. 17 meeting and started the procedure to appoint a replacement—they have 60 days to fill the position.

“Marlene has been a dedicated and detail-oriented representative of her community and her insight will be missed on the board,” said Michael Hogan, board president. “I strongly encourage residents of District 3 to indicate their interest to join our board as soon as possible, as we tackle critical issues on water supply, system maintenance and managing costs in the new year.”

Interested candidates are asked to submit their resume and a statement of interest by Jan. 17, 2021. The board will consider and interview potential candidates at a special board meeting on Jan. 25, 2021.

King said that the decision to resign was not an easy one and she said it was made more painful that no one at the district inquired why she was resigning. She sent her resignation letter on Dec. 11 and was locked out of the system: “It’s just like being erased.”

During her time on the board, King said she believed herself to be the most informed board member, always thoroughly reading board packets, researching agenda items and asking lots of questions because she took her responsibility to represent her community very seriously. She said nothing made her happier than listening to public comment and helping out constituents when contacted.

“I really loved the work,” she said.

However, King said the work became increasingly frustrating as she found the environment at the district to be “toxic and hurtful”.

“My six years on the SFID board have been an oppressive experience ranging from outright aggressive and demeaning behavior to condescending, dismissive remarks and the attitude that I was the problem,” said King. “I experienced SFID as having a board culture where the female board member was the ‘problem’…a problem to be occasionally given lip service to and then ignored.”

King described a recent incident where a director made a comment about muting her on a Zoom call and she felt it was unprofessional that the remark toward a female director went unchecked. “I just couldn’t continue to put myself in that position of constant belittlement and marginalization,” King said.

For most of her six years on the board, King voted in the minority against board decisions and fought for fairer water rates for Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch customers.

Earlier this year she was the sole vote against the new five-tier residential rate structure and water rate increases for the next three years. King opposed the rate structure as she said the large overhead costs are being paid by larger properties in the higher tiers, the ratepayers in her division: “When they need money, they go to 92067,” she said.

At her last board meeting in November, the agenda included two critical items including a review of the current reserve fund and deciding whether to adopt the Cost of Service Study (COSS) recommended 3% rate increase. She opposed adopting a study that would result in higher rates for owners of large properties and she also voted against lowering the district’s reserve fund thresholds. Looking ahead, she also did not agree with the manager’s plans for the future of Lake Hodges.

As King knew the next COSS process would begin again in 14 months, she felt it was important to step down now to get another 92067 representative who could be as informed as possible to protect Division 3’s interests.

In her remarks explaining her departure from the board, King said she also believes that SFID must seriously address gender inequities in the organization.

She said there are fewer full-time female employees than there were when she joined the board in 2014 and no women have been employed in either the water treatment or distribution divisions. The district currently has seven female employees including the public communications officer Teresa Penunuri, who was hired in June this year.

King said she believes that the culture she experienced at SFID should not exist in 2021.

“I find it hard to believe the current female employees are spared these oppressive, condescending behaviors. I hope that being a female employee at SFID has not inured them to realizing they have the right to work in a supportive, gender-neutral workplace where they don’t encounter these comments and behaviors,” King said. “I do not believe that when our customers vote for board members to represent their interests they are voting to subject their representative to a toxic environment. I have chosen to publicly speak out on these behaviors because they must stop.”

Responding to King’s statements about gender inequities, SFID General Manager Al Lau said that the district is dedicated to recruiting the top talent in the water industry and hiring the best possible candidates.

“The district follows all state and federal laws regarding equal employment opportunities. Our human resources team has a fair and robust recruitment process for each position and works hard to ensure that SFID is considered an agency of choice,” Lau said. “Diversity and inclusion are a critical priority for me as general manager of SFID, along with the rest of our organization.”

Hogan said that as a board they often had “dynamic and robust” discussions on issues such as of water reliability, costs and community engagement.

“I have always appreciated Ms. King’s dedication to her constituents, and her willingness to ask questions of staff and her fellow board members. As a board and district, we are dedicated to hearing diverse viewpoints and if there had been complaints of discrimination they would have been fully investigated and dealt with swiftly,” Hogan said. “While I am disappointed by Ms. King’s resignation, on behalf of the board, I wish her the best in her future endeavors.”

Division 3 boundaries include Fairbanks Ranch and the eastern part of Rancho Santa Fe. Those interested in King’s seat can submit a statement of interest and any questions to the general manager via email to or mail to P.O. Box 409, Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067. The term of the position expires in December of 2022. Additional information on the vacancy can be found on the district website at