Cucamonga Valley Water Board’s Election Scheduling Flip Draws Skepticism

Action taken by board members with the Cucamonga Valley Water District last fall reversing a decade-old decision to coordinate the district’s election cycle with presidential and gubernatorial contests is being challenged by a number of Rancho Cucamonga residents.
Now being bruited about the city of 165,269 is that the panel purposefully manipulated the timing of the next election as a ploy to benefit its members politically and ward off the consequences of the board’s collective support of tiered water rate hikes as well as a City of Rancho Cucamonga-led taxing initiative unrelated to the district last year.
At the heart of the controversy are two contradictory moves by the district taken ten year’s apart, each time supported by diametrically opposite rationales. Either coincidentally or calculatedly, depending on your perspective, those moves in each case had the effect of extending the political terms of board members by one year.
Historically, the Cucamonga Valley Water District held its board elections in odd numbered years. This put the district out of step with many of, though not all, of the other agencies, districts, governmental authorities and municipalities in San Bernardino County which held their elections on even-numbered years, which coincided with either the National Presidential/Congressional or State Gubernatorial/Congressional elections.
In October 2005, however, the Cucamonga Valley Water District Board of Directors passed Resolution No. 2005-10-3, which dispensed with the 2007 election while changing the scheduling of the elections from odd to even years. The resolution consequentially extended the terms of office of the incumbent board members by one year. The board members asserted that the change was justified by the money the district would save as well as the increased voter participation that was anticipated by consolidating the district’s election with the other elections.
Ten years later, in 2015, the City of Rancho Cucamonga, put on the ballot a special initiative, known as Measure A, a proposal for a local tax increase to improve street lighting, parks and landscaping. City officials sought the support of the water district and the water district board in its effort to garner voter approval of the measure. Rancho Cucamonga Mayor Dennis Michael and deputy city manager Lori Sassoon made a presentation to the Cucamonga Valley Water District Board at its September 22, 2015 meeting. At its October 13, 2015 meeting, the Cucamonga Valley Water District Board passed Resolution No. 2015-10-1 in support of Measure A.
Measure A, however, was proving overwhelmingly unpopular with Rancho Cucamonga’s voters. By early October 2015, social media sites run by Rancho Cucamonga citizen groups had an overwhelming number of residents expressing disapproval of Measure A and many advocating voting against the city council members at the next election. At its next meeting, held on October 27, 2015, the Cucamonga Valley Water District Board passed Resolution No. 2015-10-5 to return the district’s elections to odd years, and, consequentially, skip the election scheduled for November 2016. The stated reasons for the change spelled out in a district staff report were for increased voter participation and to save money on election expenses.
In short order, however, a handful of Rancho Cucamonga residents took note of the change, questioning the move. Over a period of months, the ranks of skeptics grew, forming into a group calling itself Stop CVWD Election Abuse. Questioned were obvious contradictions between the water board’s 2005 and 2015 actions, and what some residents asserted were inaccuracies that were slipped into the public record.
At the forefront of the skeptics was Mark Gibboney, a 36-year resident of Rancho Cucamonga.
Gibboney asserted that the resolution changing the district elections back to odd-numbered years that passed on October 27, 2015 was sprung on the community with no warning. Gibboney cited “erroneous statements of fact” made in presenting the resolution. “The staff report for that resolution indicated a recommendation was ‘Based on direction provided by the board.’ Minutes of previous meetings do not indicate any ‘direction’ given by the board on this subject,” Gibboney said.
Gibboney suggested the impetus for the board’s action was its members’ almost immediate recognition, in the hours and days after the board’s endorsement of Measure A, that they were lopsidedly out of step with their constituency. “Around this time, social media sites of Rancho Cucamonga groups had an overwhelming number of residents expressing disapproval of Measure A and many advocating voting against the city council members at the next election,” Gibboney said. That solid community opposition to the taxing scheme proved out on November 9, when voters in Rancho Cucamonga soundly rejected measure A, 8,103 no votes to 2,289 yes votes, or 77.97 percent to 22.03 percent.
Gibboney and others of like mind have expressed the view that the water board moved to return the district to odd-year elections because of the widespread recognition that as early as this year those board members up for reelection, James Curatalo, Luis Cetina and Randall Reed, might be forced to pay a price for their support of Measure A and that by postponing the 2016 election until 2017, they might sidestep that fate.
“Voters tend to forget about political shenanigans with the passage of time and lower voter turnout favors incumbents,” Gibboney said. “Resolution No. 2015-10-5 gives the Cucamonga Valley Water District Board both.”
Equally or more serious than the board’s tilting of the electoral playing field, Gibboney said, were the outright misrepresentations the water board and its staff engaged in to justify making the change and the financial cost to the district’s ratepayers.
“The Cucamonga Valley Water District Resolution No. 2015-10-5 statement of fact that ‘the board has determined that rescinding that previous resolution and returning elections to an odd-year cycle will result in cost savings to the district’ is false,” Gibboney said. “The resolution’s stated desires for the district, ‘to make every effort within its powers to increase voter participation in elections for board members’ and ‘the district wishes to reduce its election expenses’ are in reality defeated by the passage of the resolution.”
In actuality, Gibboney said, voter turnout in odd-numbered years will be less than in even-numbered years and the elections will cost more, not less. That assertion flew in the face of the board’s stated rationale in 2005 for changing to an even-numbered year election cycle, he said.
“The stated reasons [for the change voted upon in October 2015] were for increased voter participation and to save money on election expenses, in spite of Registrar of Voters election results showing voter turnout is typically much greater in even-numbered years, and the Registrar of Voters’ 2005 impact analysis indicating the same and that election expenses for the district are less in even numbered years,” Gibboney said. “The district passed their resolution without asking for voter in-put and made no announcement before or after passing the resolution on their district newsletter, Facebook page, website, or in any press release. After the board of supervisors approved and adopted the resolution, the Registrar of Voters sent a notice of the change to voters in the district just last month, for an additional $27,000 expense to the district, further defeating their stated desire to reduce its election expenses.”
Indeed, on January 15 of this year, the Registrar of Voters completed an impact analysis of the Cucamonga Valley Water District’s changeover to odd-year elections, concluding the district’s election costs would increase by $235,000 over a four year election cycle. The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors approved the Cucamonga Valley Water District request to change election dates, and adopted a resolution to that effect on February 9, 2016.
The tide of outrage that has erupted with the provision of the Registrar of Voters’ notice, not to mention the agitation of the Stop CVWD Election Abuse group, vhas prompted the Cucamonga Valley Water District to seriously rethink its October action.
James Curatalo, who is the board president, told the Sentinel, “First, with regard to Measure A, all of the board’s members live in the community and when the city put that measure on the ballot, the idea was to give everyone in the community the opportunity to vote on issues that were important to the community in terms of quality of life – landscaping and street lighting, parks. It was on the ballot to allow all of the people to make a decision. It was simply that. Nothing was forced on them. Personally, I supported the idea of putting it on the ballot and as a board, we supported the measure. The people made the decision.”
Curatalo responded to the controversy that has beset the district over the change back to odd-year elections.
“With regard to the entire issue of going back to odd-year elections, which was a discussion that I was a party to, we began by having a conversation about how crowded the even-year ballots were with issues and candidates,” Curatalo said. “If you look at the last ballot, it was a very crowded and very confusing one. In some of the races, the candidates were spread over two pages. I was given to understand that the Registrar of Voters was interested in moving special districts back to odd-year elections. It would not be accurate to say they were pushing us or looking to have anyone make that move, but to the extent that our district or other district’s showed an interest, I have to tell you the registrar of voters was supportive of the idea. We had our staff look into the concept. One of the projections was that there was a possible cost savings to be realized if there were other like agencies being put back on the odd-year election cycle. The way it was set up originally, we thought, I certainly thought, we would have more voters looking at our district without the distractions of the other elections and races. So we began moving forward.”
Curatalo now acknowledges that the financial benefit the switch to odd year balloting was predicated on did not materialize. “Some information has changed,” Curatalo said. Nevertheless, he insisted, the board’s intention with regard to what was done in October was honorable and not tainted with venal political calculations. “The members of the board are good, honest people,” he said. “Every decision we make is made on behalf of the community. We try to make those decisions just like the other members of the community – the ones who are not on the board, the ones we represent – would make. We make those decisions with the best information available to us at the time. Since that time, we have seen the Registrar of Voters’ impact analysis. We have had discussions with Mark Gibboney and some of the other citizens. Right now, we have requested that our staff analyze the changes and come back to us with a report in light of the new numbers. The costs projected are not what we thought they would be. There is not the cost savings we expected. The board is not happy with that.”
Curatalo insisted that the move to reinstate the odd-year elections was not done to blunt the community reaction to the board’s support of Measure A or undo the potential of political damage some or all of the board members could suffer as a result of that support.
“That was never a part of the discussion,” he said. “That was never a part of the decision.” More important to him than the cost savings, which he acknowledged has now been discredited, was the prospect of putting the water district elections into a stand-alone forum that would attract voters who were truly interested in what is going on in the water district and allow them to concentrate on the candidates for the board and the issues impacting the district without the “distraction” and clutter that normally occurs on the ballot during even-numbered years. “If you have a stand alone election, then that is going to engage voters who really care about what is going on in our community and with the water board,” Curatalo said. “The chances are that voters who show up and participate in a board election held in an off-year are going to be well informed on the issues.”
Curatalo said that a turnout of voters seeking vengeance over his and his board colleagues’ support for Measure A is not a concern to him and those colleagues, nor should it be.
“We believed in that [returning to odd-year elections],” he said. “Except for the cost, I still think it is a good idea. If doing it had shortened our terms for a year, we would have done it because it seemed at the time to be the right thing to do. It’s easy for voters who want to to take out their frustrations on the board.”
Whether there is an adequate head of steam up to derail the political careers of the current members of the board is another thing, he said. “The members of this board have been elected and reelected decidedly in past elections,” Curatalo said. “We have been reelected by wide margins, so we have no fear of the public and that extra year was not anything we were concerned about.”
At least with regard to the cost of making the change to the odd-year elections. Curatalo acknowledged that Gibboney and his cohorts were right and he and the rest of the board were wrong,
“He [Gibboney] had the initiative to say what he believed and stand up for what he believed,” Curatalo said. “You have to respect that. I know every member of the board wants to serve the community. We may not be perfect, but we’re doing our best. We are sincere. If others want to step forward and say they think there is a better direction, we welcome that.”
This coming Tuesday, April 26, the water board is scheduled to meet, at which point it will revisit the resolution to change the district to odd-year elections. In the meantime, the Stop CVWD Election Abuse citizens committee, which can be contacted variously at or (909) 560-7768, is stepping up its lobbying effort.
As to the possible recission of last October’s vote to move the next election to 2017, Curatalo said, “We’re open to correcting our course. If it’s the right thing to go back to even-year elections, that’s fine with me.”

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