Special district elections in Rancho Santa Fe fly below most voters’ radar


By Joe Tash

In the hubbub leading up to this fall’s mid-term congressional elections, races for three local government entities called special districts might attract little or no attention.

The candidates who run for seats on the agencies’ boards will oversee critical services that touch on residents’ everyday lives: delivery of drinking water, sewage treatment, fire protection and maintenance of landscaping on public right-of-way.

The agencies are the Santa Fe Irrigation District, the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District and the Rancho Santa Fe Community Services District. Seats on each of the three boards that govern the agencies come up for election in November.

The three agencies are among about 70 special districts in San Diego County, which provide a variety of different services, said County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu. In June, a candidate filing guide will be posted on the registrar’s web site,, which will list filing deadlines, rules and regulations related to running for public office and other information.

Candidates for special district boards must live within the district’s boundaries, be at least 18 years old, and file papers with the registrar’s office between July 14 and Aug. 8. The filing deadline is extended five days for races in which an incumbent does not seek re-election. Filing papers will also be available at local district offices, Vu said, although they must be turned in at the registrar’s office, 5600 Overland Drive, San Diego. Candidates must pay a fee to include a personal statement in the ballot pamphlet.

The irrigation district is divided into five divisions, and in November, three seats are up for election: Division 4, held currently by board president Michael Hogan; Division 5, held by Andy Menshek; and Division 3, held by John Ingalls. Residents of each division vote only for the seat representing them.

Ingalls announced this week in a letter to the editor of the Rancho Santa Fe Review that, due to health concerns, he has decided not to seek a fourth four-year term on the irrigation district board this fall.

He made the announcement now, he said, because “It gives people in this division four months to talk about who would be a good candidate without putting it in the context of a contest against an incumbent. I would like the community to think about who would be the best candidate, leaving the politics out of it.”

Irrigation district directors recently voted to cut their per diem payments, or compensation they receive for attending meetings, to $150 from $200. State law allows them to be paid for a maximum of 10 meetings per month, although the board officially meets only once a month, and directors are also eligible for health and dental benefits.

Directors don’t have to be water experts, said district general manager Michael Bardin, because the agency’s professional staff handles day-to-day operations.

“It’s a great way to get involved in local government,” Bardin said. The district’s annual operating budget is $22.3 million and it has 44 full-time staff members who report to the general manager.

Both the fire district and the community services district have “at large” elections, meaning all residents of the district can vote for any candidate on the ballot. The top two or three vote-getters — depending on how many seats are up for election — win four-year terms.

This year, two fire district board seats are up by election, currently held by Tucker Stine and John Tanner, said board clerk Karlena Rannals.

The district’s current operating budget is $11.67 million, and it has 56 employees. Board members must attend one meeting a month, and they may also sit on ad hoc committees. They are paid $100 per board meeting, for a maximum of four meetings per month, and are also eligible for health benefits, Rannals said.

“The commitment and dedication to serve the community is really paramount,” said Rannals. “As a staff member, I would hope the community would elect dedicated representatives who understand their fiduciary responsibility to ensure the staff is managing the financial resources that we have.”

The community services district (CSD) provides wastewater treatment for Rancho Santa Fe and nearby communities, and also maintains landscaping along the public right-of-way within the Rancho Santa Fe Covenant under contract with the Rancho Santa Fe Association.

Three seats held by Donna Ferrier, John Tanner and Dale Nelson come up for election this year.

The board oversees an agency with an operating budget of about $1.95 million. Ten employees of the Dudek consulting firm handle management, operations and other functions of the district under a contract with the agency.

Board members receive $100 per monthly board meeting, and they generally meet about 10 times each year, said board president Deb Plummer. Members of the CSD board do not receive health or dental benefits, she said.