By Raiza Giorgi
Throughout weeks of legal wrangling, two candidates for the board of a local water service district have seen their names on the November ballot, then removed, then restored just in time for the ballot to be printed.
The Santa Barbara County Elections Division approved Brian Schultz and Anita Finifrock on Aug. 9 and 10 as candidates for the board of ID1 — the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District No. 1 — but they were removed after attorneys for the district said that a section of state water code requires candidates to own property in the district.
After Philip Seymour, an attorney for the two candidates, challenged that decision, county Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Joe Holland informed all parties that he would restore Finifrock’s and Schultz’s names to the ballot. He cited a California Attorney General’s opinion that “concluded that the application of a property owner requirement to a particular district involved substantial questions of fact and law and was subject to judicial resolution after the election.”
He announced his decision on Aug. 27 and noted that his office was required to send the final ballot to the printer on Sept. 1.
With the two candidates again on the ballot, incumbent Brad Joos will face Allen Anderson, a retired business executive; incumbent Jeff Clay will face Finifrock, a communications manager; and incumbent Kevin Walsh will face Schultz, a retired fire chief.
“I am very happy that County Elections decided to reverse their decision and place Mr. Schultz and Ms. Finifrock back on the ballot and are protecting the rights of voters and candidates. ID1’s ‘holder of title or land’ rule is archaic and doesn’t override the California Constitution,” Seymour said in a telephone interview.
Seymour is a retired attorney who is a former chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center and for a number of local public figures, including former 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr.
Schultz also said he was glad to hear Holland restored him to the ballot.
“What concerns me is that ID1 is using rate-payer money to have lawyers challenge whether other rate payers (that pay their salary) are not allowed to run for trustee. If ID1 were private this might work, but this is a public entity and everyone who is in the district and registered to vote should be allowed to run,” Schultz said.
Finifrock could not be reached for comment.
ID1 General Manager Chris Dahlstrom said he doesn’t accept Holland’s decision.
“The Registrar of Voters has reversed course again by determining that they (Schultz and Finifrock) are qualified, regardless of what the statutory requirements are to be elected as a trustee,” Dahlstrom said by email on Aug. 29.
“ID No. 1 is currently working with the Registrar of Voters to straighten out whether or not these candidates are actually qualified in order to ensure that all candidates on the November ballot are actually qualified and avoid the waste of taxpayer dollars associated with an unqualified candidate,” Dahlstrom continued.
Seymour said he expected ID1 to challenge the decision, but doesn’t believe they will be successful.
“Those rules might apply for a private water district, but not a public entity like ID1. They aren’t a water district, they are an improvement district. It says so in their name,” he added.
ID1 was created in 1959 to deliver water to residential, commercial and agricultural users in the Santa Ynez Valley. It now serves about 2,700 connections. The district’s boundaries include parts of Solvang, although those voters get their water from the city. Solvang relies primarily on wells and state water but does buy some water from ID1.
For more information about the district, go to www.syrwd.org, call 805-688-6015, or visit the district office at 3622 Sagunto St. in Santa Ynez.
Noozhawk Managing Editor Giana Magnoli contributed to this report.