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ELECTIONS ’88 ORANGE COUNTY : Special Districts--Mostly Obscure but They Pack Clout

Times Staff Writer

For a man seeking reelection to a low-paying, part-time job on a tiny governmental body that some consider obscure and outdated, Charles R. Wall is going all out.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.

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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%.

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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.

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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.

The district also, he said, has developed a financial plan for expansion that could mean the district’s residential customers will not have to pay any fee at all for water service.

“If development keeps on going the way it is,” Wall said, “we’ll get so much tax increment money that we’ll be able to apply that to district operations.”

Bauer, a general contractor who is the district’s current president and who has been on the board for 11 years without having ever been challenged in an election, said the board has also developed a master plan for conservation measures in case of a drought.

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Gary L. Shouse, an administrative coordinator for the Rancho Santiago Community College District, contends that the opposite is the case. He is seeking to unseat either Wall or Bauer and gain a four-year term on the board.

“I’m running,” Shouse said, “because I’m a little disillusioned by the board’s short-sightedness. I’m also concerned that Dove Canyon (a major development in the south county) is in its infancy and there are already concerns about there not being enough water.”

Shouse also complained about bimonthly water bills in the district that he said can be as high as $200 or $300.

Bob Bess, a trash collector for Newport Beach and the second challenger for Wall’s or Bauer’s seats, voiced similar concerns.

Bess said his interest in seeking a seat as a director stemmed from a bitter, highly publicized controversey earlier this year over whether a portion of the water district should be ceded to the nearby Irvine Ranch Water District.

In the dispute, a development firm accused the Santa Ana Mountains directors of standing in the way of development by not providing the district with a permanent source of water. The area was briefly shifted to the Irvine district but later returned to his district, Wall said.

More recent publicity has surrounded Wall’s attempt to recall fellow director Sam Porter. Wall accused Porter of illegally providing water hookups for low-income people whom Porter allows to live on his Trabuco Canyon ranch, and of being rude to the public at board meetings.

The district has sued Porter over the water hookups.

Wall is waging an aggressive campaign that probably will cost him $2,000, he said. By contrast, Bauer had not spent a penny on his campaign in early October, he said.

The fact that the eight candidates vying for four seats on the North Tustin Municipal Advisory Council are spending little in their campaigns is probably fitting. The winners won’t receive any pay for serving their four-year terms.

The seven-member council is the closest thing to a city council that the 30,000 residents of the unincorporated area of North Tustin have. But the council has no real decision-making power because its authority is limited to advising the Board of Supervisors.

The race, nevertheless, rivals some statewide and national races in its intensity, say observers and candidates, and in what what one candidate described as “negativity.”

On the one side are three incumbents--Irene Brace, Donald A. Rollins and council President Neil Harkleroad--defending their records against a field of five challengers who have accused the council of everything from holding secret meetings and ignoring crucial planning issues to making official decisions in phone chats.

“I think they have lost sight of the fact that they are there to serve the community, and not control it,” said Phyllis M. Spivey, a real estate broker who is seeking to replace one of the incumbents or gain the fourth seat, which is being vacated by Delores Beck, who decided not to run for reelection.

Spivey, one of the more vocal challengers in a field of vocal challengers, has taken the incumbents to task for not giving North Tustin residents adequate warning about a bond measure that could raise their taxes. The Nov. 8 ballot measure, if approved by voters, would pay for the purchase of a school site and its redevelopment into a park. The money raised would also be used to upgrade a strip park in North Tustin that the county already owns and to operate the two parks .

The Board of Supervisors, in a unanimous vote Aug. 3, placed the $7.5-million bond sale issue, known as Measure AA, on the ballot.

Spivey contends that the measure, if approved by voters, will represent “a major tax increase disguised as an opportunity to get parks.” The new tax, Spivey says, would cost each taxpayer in the district $96 the first year. That amount, she says, will increase by 2 1/2% each subsequent year for up to 40 years.

She criticizes the council members for not bringing the issue to the public before the supervisors’ action and for not taking an official stand on the matter.

Harkleroad concedes that the council did not officially take up the issue either at its own meetings or before the supervisors, but he maintains that the supervisors acted so quickly that the council did not have time to react.

Harkleroad discounts Spivey’s allegations of secrecy and improper decision-making. He said she has leveled the unfounded criticism repeatedly in recent years in “preparation” for her current candidacy.

Spivey has also been accused by the incumbents of representing the interests of developers, who allegedly want to alter the rural environment in North Tustin, and of favoring dissolution of the advisory council. Spivey denies both allegations.

Besides Measure AA, the other main issues in the race, say incumbents and their challengers, are some council members’ support of the county’s routing for the Eastern Transportation Corridor and planned arterial highways through North Tustin. Another issue is whether North Tustin should become a city or be annexed by Orange or Tustin.

Besides Spivey, the challengers include William C. Weber Jr., owner of a Tustin-based consulting firm; Russell M. Abbott, an aircraft company design engineer; Roy F. Brown, a retired engineer and business executive, and Joseph L. Herzig, a UCI student and neighborhood activist who last year helped fight off attempts by Tustin to annex two North Tustin neighborhoods.

SPECIAL DISTRICTS CANDIDATES FOR NOV. 8 ELECTION

NORTH TUSTIN MUNICIPAL ADVISORY COUNCIL Seats Open 4Jurisdiction North Tustin Candidates Phyllis M. Spivey, William C. Weber Jr., Russell M. Abbott, *Irene Brace, Roy F. Brown, *Donald A. Rollins, *Neil Harkleroad, Joseph L. Herzig CAPISTRANO BAY PARK & RECREATION DISTRICT Seats Open 3Jurisdiction Parts of Capistrano Beach, Dana Point Candidates *Harry Otsubo, *Mike Reed, W.F. Smith, Evelyn S. Rapozo CAPISTRANO BEACH SANITARY DISTRICT Seats Open 3Jurisdiction Parts of Capistrano Beach, northern San Clemente Candidates Don Simpkin,Ray L. Benedicktus, Kenneth C. Lawrence, Mike Schadegg, Julianne T. Quirk-Kipper, Basil D. Rose MIDWAY CITY SANITARY DISTRICT Seats Open 2Jurisdiction Parts of Garden Grove, Westminster, Midway City Candidates *Jane Kirkpatrick, *J.R. Siefen, Helena Rutkowski, Marvin Rofsky BUENA PARK LIBRARY DISTRICT Seats Open 3Jurisdiction Buena Park area Candidates *Robert W. Flewelling, Robert D. Thompson, Helen M. Bohen, Edward A. Erdtsieck PLACENTIA LIBRARY DISTRICT Seats Open 3Jurisdiction Placentia area Candidates Fred West, *Susan J. Feldman, *Margaret Dinsmore, Camille Ann Himes ORANGE COUNTY WATER DISTRICT Seats Open 4Jurisdiction All of North County Candidates *Lawrence P. Kraemer Jr., Ralph C. Shook, (3 other incumbents are unopposed) IRVINE RANCH WATER DISTRICT Seats Open 2Jurisdiction Irvine. Parts of Orange, Laguna Beach, Tustin, Newport Beach, unincorporated areas Candidates Bob Spillar,*Mary Aileen Matheis, Charles D. McGee, *Darryl G. Miller, Albert E. Nasser, Edward J. Nash MOULTON NIGUEL WATER DISTRICT Seats Open 4Jurisdiction Parts of Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Mission Viejo, Dana Point Candidates *Steven G. Feldman, Paul D. Berkery, (3 other incumbents are unopposed) CAPISTRANO BEACH COUNTY WATER DISTRICT Seats Open 3Jurisdiction Parts of Capistrano Beach, Dana Point plus 2 blocks of San Clemente Candidates Briann Stuart, *Elmer L. Kuhn, Sam Lentine, *Martha Rottman, *Robert W. Hill EAST ORANGE COUNTY WATER DISTRICT Seats Open 2Jurisdiction Various water agencies Candidates Paul Fletcher, Bill Vandrwerff, Gary Veeh, Douglas M. Chapman LOS ALAMITOS COUNTY WATER DISTRICT Seats Open 3Jurisdiction Los Alamitos, Rossmoor. Parts of Seal Beach, Cypress Candidates *Martin Mestas, Marvin Pass, *Wm. C. Poe, Henry S. Zack

SANTA ANA MOUNTAINS COUNTY WATER DISTRICT Seats Open 2Jurisdiction Trabuco Canyon Candidates Gary L. Shouse, *Charles R. Wall, *Gunther Bauer, Bob Bess * Incumbents Note: All incumbents in the following districts were unopposed and will not appear on the ballot: El Toro Water District; Garden Grove Sanitary District; Dana Point Sanitary District; Costa Mesa Sanitary District; Carpenter Irrigation District; Serrano Irrigation District; Coastal Municipal Water District; Municipal Water District of Orange County; Tri-Cities Municipal Water District; Laguna Beach County Water District; Santiago County Water District; South Coast Water District; Yorba Linda Water District.

Sources: Registrar of voters, districts


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