The Central Contra Costa Sanitary District (Central San) Board of Directors is one of the special districts set to appear on San Ramon Valley voters' ballots during the Nov. 3 election, with six candidates vying for three at-large seats on the sewer board.
Voters will have the opportunity to cast their ballots for three of the six candidates, choosing from among incumbents Paul Causey, Jim Nejedly and Tad Pilecki and challengers Barbara Hockett, Nathan Jaquez and Mariah Lauritzen.
Central San covers a 145-square-mile service area, which includes Alamo, Danville and parts of San Ramon, along with all of Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda, Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek, portions of Martinez and unincorporated communities within central Contra Costa County. It also cleans the wastewater from the cities of Concord and Clayton under contract.
This may be Central San's final at-large election after the district was petitioned to begin practicing voting on a by-division method.
In a by-division election system, residents will only vote for a candidate who lives within their geographic district, essentially meaning residents can only vote for one board seat every four years, instead of all available board candidates every two years as is the case under the current at-large voting in effect on the Nov. 3 ballot.
DanvilleSanRamon.com interviewed all six contenders about their backgrounds, experience and priorities for the district should they win one of the available seats.
A recurring theme among the incumbent board members, Causey cites extensive experience in the sanitation field and has served public agencies throughout California for more than half a century.
First elected to the Central San board in 2012, Causey points to his years of service as a measure of his success in the field -- experience that he said he will leverage to ensure that Central San residents receive top quality service.
"I've been in this business for 50 years and all of that has been with public agencies. I've worked with cities and special districts for the first 30-34 years of my career. The past 17 I've worked as a consultant to collection system agencies and I've worked for almost 100 public agencies in California over that 17 years," he said.
In his efforts to represent the district, Causey said his top priorities for the term ahead will be to help the district navigate its way through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and working with the community at-large to help guide the future of wastewater and recycled water.
A vocal advocate for increasing the district's utilization of sustainable energy, Causey said he is proud of a solar project that is in the works that would increase the district's use of sustainable energy from 25% to "maybe 50% or 60%."
"This business that I've been in for 50 years is one that I very much love. I retired 15-16 years ago, and as my wife says, I've been failing pretty heavily at retirement," he laughed. "However, I love what I do and the point I am at now in my life and career, I just want to give back."
A former member of Central San's Board of Directors, Hockett is seeking to return to the board after an eight-year hiatus, saying that she is seeking to represent the needs of district taxpayers in a way that the current board is not quite doing.
Having previously served on the board between 1992 and 2012, Hockett saaid she understands that a well-run sanitary district should emphasize public health in addition to excellent engineering and maintenance and that she is just the candidate to maximize Central San's service potential.
"The makeup of the current board doesn’t represent the ratepayers of our county in terms of expertise and gender. I bring a public health perspective to the board representing the families in the district. My voice brings a different perspective to decision making and provides balance to the board serving our ratepayers," Hockett told DanvilleSanRamon.com.
Upon joining the board, Hockett said her priorities will be to increase the storage and distribution of high-quality recycled water, establish low-cost financing assistance for individual homeowners to convert from septic tanks to public sewer service, support the household hazardous waste collection facility that keeps pollutants out of landfills and support the pharmaceutical disposal program.
An electrical engineer with a depth of knowledge about the inner workings of wastewater treatment, Jaquez said he was encouraged to run in order to provide his fellow neighbors in Concord a representative voice on the board.
"Even though Concord itself contracts with Central San, 130,000 residents get their services from Central San, and even though we contract, we don't have a voice on the board and I feel like we should have representation," he said. "The Concord community should at least have a voice on the board."
Further advocating for emergency preparedness, Jaquez said a top priority of his platform is to review how Central San is equipped to handle tectonic shifts, and to ensure that procedures are in place to keep services active in the event of an earthquake.
Also an advocate for the expansion of recycled water services throughout the county, Jaquez said he would like to make recycled water options more accessible to the public at-large and that current quantities are underwhelming.
"I also feel like since Central San uses 6% of its wastewater for recycled water, but 4% of that is used within Central San itself. Since only 2% is used in the community, I would like to basically try to make sure that that is more utilized for recycling back into the community itself," he said.
Rounding out the list of challengers, Lauritzen has earned experience working on the frontlines of waste water management so to speak, having worked at the wastewater treatment plant in Martinez.
A proponent for combating climate change, Lauritzen said as a board member she would promote transparency, focus on providing reliable and cheap service and work to update the sanitation equipment to be sustainable in a climate change environment.
She is also a vocal advocate for the promotion of equity within the district, and said her selection to the board would ensure a younger fresh voice to the district.
"We need different viewpoints on the board of the Central Contra Costa Sanitation District. A basic tenet of business planning is to train the next generation so you are prepared when experienced engineers retire, yet the current board members are all older men, giving the board a both lack of different perspectives and putting the Central San board at risk of knowledge loss if there is a sudden turn-over," Lauritzen said on her campaign website.
"As a younger engineer with seven years of experience in water treatment, my presence on the board would only strengthen the organization," she added.
With more than 24 years of experience in the solid waste management field, incumbent Nejedly is another longtime leader in sanitation who is seeking to convince voters to cast their ballots in favor of continuity.
First elected to the board in 1996, Nejedly said that his extensive experience in sanitation leadership makes him more than qualified to continue working for his constituents in Central San.
"I've been doing this for 24 years; I never thought I'd be doing it for this long but what you find is the work is never done," Nejedly said. "I'm there for the right reasons, and I've felt a deep connection to Central San for as long as I've been there. I feel like the people appreciate the work that I do because I do bring a real life daily workload experience to the district and I try to apply that."
If re-elected once again to the Board of Directors, Nejedly said he will continue his priorities to promote health and welfare for district residents and employees, maintain fiscal responsibility and ensure that the district's capital improvement programs and infrastructure maintenance continues to provide the region with excellent service.
Tad J. Pilecki
A board member with decades of experience in the water and wastewater field, Pilecki currently serves as the president pro tem of the board and has worked in his field for more than 43 years -- eight of which have been on the Central San Board of Directors.
Seeking a third term in order to continue the work he has been doing for the region, Pilecki said his top priorities for the district are to expand the use of recycled water and resource recovery, implement $2 billion to $3 billion in capital improvements over the next 20 years and to protect public health and the environment -- especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Since I joined the board in 2012, the district has remained in full compliance with its water quality permit for 22 years (the longest in California), reduced sewer overflows to 1.4 overflows per 100 miles of pipe in 2019-20 (Bay Area average is 5.9), collected 2 million pounds of household hazardous waste annually," Pilecki told DanvilleSanRamon.com.
"(It has also) significantly reduced unfunded liabilities, established and funded prudent reserves, kept O&M budgets flat for the last five years and reduced health care costs by $5 million," he added.
Touching on issues that specifically relate to the San Ramon Valley, Pilecki added that he is also working to improve household hazardous waste collection in the extremities of the district’s service area.