"My car is dirty," Thompson said. "And my lawn is going to die first. Because I'm a board member, and people are watching."
In the past, other watchful eyes have noticed the development interests on the board. That element, critics allege, has turned the water authority into a growth engine.
In their coming book, "Thirst for Growth: Water Agencies as Hidden Government in California," UCLA professors Margaret FitzSimmons and Robert Gottlieb note that water authority leaders with ties to development have been "effective opponents" of San Diego's slow-growth movement.
In the late 1980s, the authors write, "The San Diego water leaders, despite their new emphasis on local storage, also helped steer MWD (Metropolitan Water District) policy toward increasing peaking capacity"--in other words, toward importing more and more water to keep San Diego, already the state's second-largest city, thriving and prosperous.
Directors are aware of the allegations. When contacted for this story, Mason, the insurance agent, promptly joked that, because he and his wife have no children, they "have not contributed to growth at all. And the only thing we've built is a patio roof--I'm not a developer."
Francesca M. Krauel, an attorney and city of San Diego representative on the board, said, "If you just looked at the makeup of our board without knowing the people you would say, 'Aha! I've got something here.' But it's just not true."
When critics make charges about developer bias, one primary target is director Michael D. Madigan, the current board chairman and a former executive assistant to one-time San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson. Madigan, who is a city of San Diego board member, is an executive with Pardee Construction, one of San Diego's largest development firms.
But to hear his fellow board members tell it, Madigan has not let that influence his performance on the board.
"He is one of the most sterling, capable public servants in town," said Krauel.
Eric Larson, a Carlsbad city councilman since 1987, says that, among the "developer types" on the board, he has seen no evidence of pressure being exerted inappropriately.
"They seem able to change hats," said Larson, the general manager of the San Diego County Flower and Plant Auction, who represents the Carlsbad Metropolitan Water District.
"I don't see any cliques or back scratching at all," said Bob Stevens, a retired electronics salesman who represents the city of Del Mar. "Golly, if there's any group weighted (on the board) it would be attorneys. And we've got quite a few professors."
Anne Omsted, who describes herself as a homemaker, community leader and environmentalist, says there is value to having developers on the board.
"It's like having the wolf watch the other wolves--they know all the tricks, and they're always coming up with wonderful ways to plug loopholes," said Omsted, who represents the San Dieguito Water District. "Mike Leach is one of our best leak pluggers."
When the board voted to require developers to pay a fee for new water hookups, for example, Omsted says Leach was instrumental in making that regulation--which stood to cost developers thousands of dollars--as tight as possible.
Leach says that, although his clients are developers, when he steps into the water authority board room he is able to put the county's water needs before his own.
"If you look at the actions the board has taken, they have really given (developers) no quarter," he said. "I can't think of one instance where the construction or development industry has been given any sort of break. And the construction industry has been told by me personally that if they think they're going to continue to do business as usual, they're missing the entire point."
And indeed, last week as the board struggled with its most radical and unpopular action ever--the new water use restrictions--Madigan, Watton and Leach led the campaign to adopt the toughest possible measures. Among those measures: growth caps that forbid any new water connections unless the developer can create a "conservation offset" so his new project will mean no new net water demand.
"To date, the county of San Diego has somewhat segregated itself from the rest of the state," Watton said just before voting to support measures that will probably kill most of San Diego's lawns before summer. "It's time to close that gap."
Leach called those measures "the least we can do," adding, "We can argue that we want to keep everyone happy. And, in doing so, we'll make no one happy."
Madigan answered the public outcry over the difficulty of imposing the 50% cuts by saying simply, "If there were easy answers to this issue, somebody would have discovered them by now."
Judging by the challenges ahead, the water board is likely to remain in the public eye.