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Water Boards Flooded With Candidates : Elections: Thirty-five people are seeking the often uncontested seats. Drought and pollution have raised the political stakes.


SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — An unprecedented number of candidates--35 in all--will compete for nine seats on three San Gabriel Valley water boards, which have been raised from political backwaters of the past by the drought and a longstanding and severe pollution problem.

"With water prices going up, the drought and ground-water contamination as continuing problems, water is getting to be more and more an important topic," said Robert G. Berlien, a local water agency official, explaining the burgeoning interest in the water positions in the Nov. 3 election.

The ascendancy of the water boards first became evident in 1990 elections, when several environmental candidates challenged the group of water industry partisans who had long labored in obscurity on water policy.

This year, the politics became considerably more complex as the broadest field ever submitted filings by the Aug. 7 deadline. As many as six candidates are taking each other on in some districts. Coming from a wide range of backgrounds, the candidates include a former state Republican Party chairman, several former mayors, current council members, past and present school board members, two city attorneys, water industry representatives and environmental activists.

"It's a free-for-all. There's going to be a lot of people swinging their hammers and tongs," said Hacienda Heights environmentalist Wil Baca, who is working to elect a slate of half a dozen candidates.

The large field highlights growing political clout of water boards as the focus of a massive program to clean polluted ground water shifts toward the local level.

Calling it one of the worst problems of its kind in the nation, federal officials in 1984 put the San Gabriel Basin on the Superfund list of environmental cleanup priorities. Until about two years ago, local officials thought the federal government was going to remedy the problem, at an estimated cost of $800 million.

But now it appears that, if there is to be a solution, it will come largely from the region and the state.

Under several current and past legislative proposals, a regional agency would be created to oversee the cleanup of the ground-water problems. Water boards are expected to have some say in appointing members to that agency, yielding a greater degree of control over water issues.

Historically, the water districts' primary role has been arranging for the importing of water to supplement local sources.

Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District

The valley's largest water district, serving 800,000 residents from South Pasadena to Covina, has seen contested elections only three times in the past three decades--in 1990, 1988 and 1968.

This fall, there will be challenges in all three races for the five-member board. Each board member has a constituency larger than any San Gabriel Valley city.

In Division 2, which roughly includes Arcadia, San Gabriel, Monrovia and South Pasadena, Burton E. Jones, a former South Pasadena mayor who has long been a fixture on the local, regional and state water scene, faces two challengers: David Czamanske, a South Pasadena attorney and environmentalist, and Frank Forbes, a semi-retired civil engineer who served for 22 years as the public works director of San Gabriel.

Division 3 incumbent Royall K. Brown, who is an environmental engineer, has two opponents in the race to represent the area of Hacienda Heights, La Puente and part of West Covina. One challenger, Kenneth Manning, a Hacienda-La Puente Unified School District board member, is the son of Tag Manning, who served on the Upper District board in the 1980s. The other challenger, Francis M. (Frank) Palacio, an insurance broker, is a former La Puente council member.

Six candidates, including incumbent R. William (Bill) Robinson of West Covina, are vying to represent Division 4, which includes Covina and parts of West Covina and Baldwin Park. Challenging Robinson are Dolly Lucero, a West Covina educator and businesswoman who managed Upper District board President Anthony Fellow's recent unsuccessful bid for the 57th State Assembly seat; Robert Nordstrom, a retired West Covina insurance executive; Gilbert Ramirez, a Covina-Valley Unified School District board member; West Covina resident Iris Delameter and Covina resident Mary Ann Zamel.

Three Valleys Municipal Water District

There are four board seat elections--with 19 candidates--for the board, which is known for routine infighting and serves 475,000 residents in the eastern San Gabriel Valley.

The district includes the region's only race in which the incumbent is not seeking reelection. Current Three Valleys Board President Sandra N. Baldonado, a Claremont attorney who holds the board's Division 2 seat, did not file for reelection, causing the filing deadline for the race to be extended to last Wednesday from Aug. 7.

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