By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Friday, January 7th, 2011 at 11:45 am in Contra Costa County.
Seven people have applied for a seat on the arcane but powerful Contra Costa County board charged with overseeing orderly growth and stanching suburban sprawl.
The Contra Costa Special Districts Association, comprised of the county’s 44 independent elected special districts, must replace its appointee and former Discovery Bay Community Services District member David Piepho.
Piepho tried unsuccessfully to keep his Local Agency Formation Commission seat through an appointment to a cemetery board, but the Board of Supervisors balked at naming the spouse of sitting supervisor, Mary Nejedly Piepho.
The large number of applicants reflects the typical high level of interest in LAFCO, an agency that governs annexations, determines community planning areas and conducts reviews of public service delivery including water, fire and police.
The seven elected special district applicants include Thomas Baldocchi, Jr., Reclamation District 2065 in the Veale Tract; Leonard Battaglia, West County Wastewater District; Sandra Bonato, Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District; Danny Hamby, Byron Sanitary District; Michael McGill, Central Contra Costa Sanitary District; Richard Olsen, Moraga-Orinda Fire District; and Elmer “Al” Schaal, Mt. View Sanitary District.
The pursuit of a LAFCO seat involves behind-the-scenes politicking among geographic regions, and special interest factions such as developers and environmentalists.
The leading contender appears to be McGill, a sanitary board member who owns a Martinez-based civil engineering, planning and surveying firm. He ran unsuccessfully in June for county supervisor but he impressed voters with his pragmatic attitude and financial skills.
On the other hand, McGill may not find favor with the environmental community whose members view him, given his professional background, as too friendly with developers.
McGill describes himself, however, as fully capable of making objective assessments of applications before LAFCO based on the agency’s role as an arbiter of orderly boundaries and logical service providers.
The name conspicuously absent from the ballot is that of West County Wastewater District member George Schmidt, who had the environmental community’s support. He has served as the special district’s alternate for years and sought the full voting position.
But Schmidt failed to win his own board’s nomination. Instead, in a 3-2 vote, the West County Wastewater directors chose without comment fellow board member Battaglia.
Battaglia’s nomination probably won’t amount to much except as a means to block Schmidt. The association is unlikely to select two LAFCO appointees from the same agency.
Schmidt, unwilling to give up, went special districts shopping and secured the nomination of the Diablo Water District in Oakley during a Dec. 22 special meeting. Under the rules, Schmidt could appear on the ballot if he received the nomination of a special district, not necessarily his own.
But the vote was a case of mistaken identity, said Diablo District Manager Mike Yeraka.
The board intended to nominate McGill — who had already been nominated by his own board — but Schmidt showed up to the Diablo Water District meeting and McGill didn’t. Both men sit on sanitary district boards.
Two weeks later, the Diablo Water District, seeking to correct its mistake, rescinded its Schmidt nomination and replaced it with McGill.
As a result, Schmidt’s name will not appear on the ballot when the special districts association votes on Jan. 24. He will remain on LAFCO as an alternate through 2014.
The average resident may well wonder about the furor over appointments to such a little-known public agency.
Growth has slowed dramatically throughout the Bay Area but that won’t last forever. And the continuing service cuts as the recession slams public agency’s budgets could push LAFCO’s service efficiency recommendations into the public eye.
LAFCO’s voting board is comprised of one at large public appointee and two appointees each from the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, Mayors Conference and the Special Districts Association. Each of the four represented groups also appoints an alternate.
Special districts include elected boards that govern water, sewer, fire, reclamation agencies.