Hosted by the League of Women Voters and staged in the Oakdale City Council Chambers, four candidates vying for two Oakdale Irrigation District Division posts had the chance to voice their positions on a number of issues at a recent candidate forum.
The event was staged Wednesday, Oct. 11 and OID Division 5 hopefuls Brad DeBoer and Grover Francis were among the candidates taking a seat on the dais for the event. Also on hand were Division 2 candidates, incumbent Herman Doornenbal and challenger Don Taro.
The seat that Doornenbal currently holds and is hoping to retain, includes OID constituents in both San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. Taro is running to fill the post, hoping to oust the incumbent.
The Wednesday night event featured a chance for all candidates to give a brief, two-minute introduction of themselves and their reasons for seeking the office. Questions were provided by attendees and the League of Women Voters format allowed time for each candidate to answer the same question, with the questions rotated to the candidates so the same one did not get to answer first each time.
A wide range of topics were covered – from the sale of water outside the district to annexation of new land to hanging on to the pre-1914 water rights afforded to OID.
“Eight years ago when I ran for this position, I felt it was time to give something back,” Doornenbal said. “Passion for water is something I really have and it’s good to be involved. I love OID; I think they do a lot of great things for our community.”
Taro, who said his father served on the OID board for 16 years, said he feels that there are issues on the board that need to be addressed and that’s why he is seeking the position.
“Water sales behind closed doors, too many lawsuits going on,” he said. “I feel OID needs to be a board that works together, not against each other, and work for a better quality of water.”
DeBoer said he has done some ‘homework’ to prepare for a campaign.
“A year ago I started attending OID board meetings, in February I started going to the Tri-Dam meetings,” he said of getting involved and learning about the issues. “With my business and farming background, I feel those are good qualities for a director.”
He has farmed since 2006 and also spent 30 years in the landscaping business. He said when Director Gary Osmundson left the seat because he moved from the area, he decided to make a run for the position.
“We’re going through some tough times right now,” Francis said of the OID board involved in multiple litigation cases, some pitting board members against each other. “It should not be operating like this now.”
Francis said he sees himself as a great ‘leveler’ – someone who can bring stability back to the board.
The first question posed was what the candidates feel is the most important issue facing the OID.
“Water is the new gold in California,” DeBoer said of having to protect OID’s precious resource. “We’ve got a state that wants to take 40 to 60 percent of our water down the river … we’ve got to fight the state.”
For Francis, his main issue is possible loss of the documented water rights, those pre-1914 water rights.
“That first 300,000 acre feet for OID, that must be protected,” Francis said.
On another topic, the candidates were asked about their thoughts on annexing land into the OID boundaries.
“I’m in favor of annexation but we don’t know how much water we’re going to have,” Taro said of needing to carefully consider whether they would be able to support those annexations in the future.
Doornenbal had a similar view.
“I have no problem with annexing but we have to stay committed to the city,” he said. “We cannot oversell the watershed. We’re going to have to have a way to cut people off.”
With the event scheduled for 90 minutes, they did run a little bit over the allotted time, but had plenty of ground to cover.
The Leader will be featuring profiles of Don Taro, Herman Doornenbal, Brad DeBoer and Grover Francis in a future issue, with a “Q and A” format, prior to the Nov. 7 election, to give voters a more comprehensive look at the candidates in the contested races.