For a man seeking reelection to a low-paying, part-time job on a tiny governmental body that some consider obscure and outdated, Charles R. Wall is going all out.
He has plastered posters of himself with the printed directive "Retain Wall" on every available lightpost in Trabuco Canyon. He has passed out lapel buttons supporting his campaign to anyone who would take one and even conducted voter opinion polls by phone.
Before it is over, the Laguna Hills caterer and cafe owner says, he will have spent hundreds of dollars and countless hours trying to retain a position that some Orange County residents will learn of for the first time Nov. 8 in a voting booth.
Wall is a director of the Santa Ana Mountains County Water District, one of more than 100 special districts in the county that, though little-noticed, controlled $187.7 million in property taxes last year while overseeing such things as water, sewage treatment and other services often handled by cities.
Wall is an exception among the scores of special district directors whose terms end in January: He has to bother to conduct a reelection campaign.
This year, as in the past, many of the directors who filed for reelection are facing no opposition and will be reappointed to their seats by the Board of Supervisors. Their names won't even appear on the ballot.
Many other candidates who do have opponents--incumbents and challengers alike--say their campaigns will consist of no more than sending out a few mailers.
No matter that a quarter of the districts, for the first time this year, will hold their balloting during a general election, when voter turnout can be as high as 78%, instead of the traditional off-year election, when turnout can be as low as 7%.
There will be 13 special-district elections on the ballot in various parts of the county this year. No elections will be held in 13 districts because incumbents were not challenged. District and county officials concede that many voters don't know the districts exist, a problem that has grown as new cities have been formed and the districts have become buried in additional layers of government.
In some election years, a few districts stand out either because they enjoy some name recognition or because of controversy.
The former is the case this year in Wall's district, which has generated numerous headlines in recent years involving a boundary dispute with a nearby water district and the exploits of one of the district directors, retired real estate man and longtime south county resident Sam Porter.
The latter is the case with the North Tustin Municipal Advisory Council, a panel of seven elected officials that advises the Board of Supervisors on planning matters in the unincorporated area known as North Tustin, or County Service Area No. 5. The service area is a special district for North Tustin that, unlike the Santa Ana Mountains County Water District, is operated directly by county government to provide municipal services.
Independent special districts such as the Santa Ana Mountains district are separate governmental bodies that typically have five-member boards of directors who meet once or twice a month. Members are paid from $50 to $125 per meeting.
In the case of the water districts, the directors set rates and oversee land acquisitions and policy for operations of plants. The districts are funded by fees and property taxes. They are second only to school districts in the share of property taxes they receive.
The districts on the Nov. 8 ballot include one municipal advisory council, one parks and recreation district, two sanitary districts, two library districts and seven water districts.
The water districts include the massive Orange County Water District, which oversees the county's groundwater basin and sells water wholesale from that basin. The district covers nearly all of north Orange County and has a 1988-89 budget of $50 million for operation and capital projects.
Within the district's geographical boundary are several other smaller water districts that provide other services, such as supplying water directly to residences.
Of the four incumbents candidates on the 10-member Orange County Water District board of directors, only one was challenged.
In the race in the 7,158-acre Santa Ana Mountains County Water District, two of the five incumbents--Wall and general contractor Gunther Bauer--face opposition from challengers who contend that the current board has become unresponsive to the fast-growing district's long-term service and water conservation needs.
A decade ago, the district provided water and sewage service to about 250 homes in Trabuco Canyon. It now serves about 1,500 homes.
Wall, who has been on the district board for a decade, said that during that time, the district's operations have kept pace with the growth of its population.