Breaking the Glass Ceiling & the North Marin Water District Race

It’s never easy breaking glass ceilings when entering the arena of public service but it helps to start with an agency that is staffed with highly experienced personnel. As long as a board member has the ability to make meaningful inquiries, staff have the capacity to explain all aspects of water management from pensions to engineering.

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The notion that you must be an engineer to serve, is part of a past that also suggests water district board members should primarily be men. Unfortunately, that past is still being endorsed by the Marin IJ in the current election cycle.


While the IJ has described my candidacy as providing “a public service by opening a dialogue about how the district handles the public’s business,” they maintain that the board doesn’t have “any severe problems” so doesn’t really need a change in status.


The IJ ignores information that I provided which points to the water board’s own strategic planning process identifying problems with stakeholder and community engagement as a significant issue.  My 30 years as a therapist working with high conflict and communication, is not credited as having any added value to a board made up of five gentlemen in their 70’s – two engineers, an investment banker, a landscape architect and a retired board of supervisor aid.


The candidates include two board members Rick Fraites, a retired Marin county board of supervisor aid and James Grossi, a civil engineer with Stuber Stroeh and resident of Marindale Ranch. While Fraites has a long history of water board service as a conservationist, Grossi’s appointment to the board came after the death of John Schoonover, in 2017. John was 89 at the time of his death. He and Jack Baker were the longest serving board members. Jack has been on the water board since 1983. Jack is also an engineer.


My campaign platform is most closely allied to Rick Fraites. We both received endorsements from the Sierra Club, the Marin Women’s PAC and the Marin Association of Realtors. I am a lifelong Democrat but did not receive the endorsement of the Marin Democratic Club. It is like that I did not get the endorsement because of my reputation as a watchdog of government agencies and finance.


Rick and I have both participated in the League of Women Voters debate and the Marin Women’s Political Action Committee debate. The MWPAC endorsed me and recommended Rick. Jim Grossi has not participated in any debates making it difficult to know how he views public inclusion, district finance, pension obligations and conservation. Jim’s board service only goes back to August 2017, when he was appointed. It’s unfortunate that the IJ gives him equal credit to Rick who has served for 15 years.


My history as a local community activist, supports voter involvement in all public agencies, just as the Marin Civil Grand Jury report calls for transparency and inclusion, I believe the board needs a public voice that will make changes to the way the board and the agency provide information to consumers and voters. I also believe the district’s use of social media, websites and electronic outreach could be much improved.


The first step is updating the website to 21st century standards and then adding readable white papers that provide advance information on rate increases, new technology, capital improvement projects and district finances. Pensions are an issue about which many voters share concerns. It’s important that the board and the district become transparent by sharing information about pensions and debt service on loans in simple, easy to read

The North Marin Water District provides links to rebate programs, but the links still require paper and pen. Updating forms for electronic submission would add to conservation efforts and make it simpler for consumers to access benefits. I understand the consumer role from a 30-year perspective on conservation, because I am the person in my family, that has invested in water saving fixtures and appliances, monitored water and energy use, and followed changes in technology that allow for greater water conservation.


I am also up to date on state legislation related to water conservation including new regulations that allow water districts to use treated wastewater to top off reservoirs. I believe that North Marin will not need to resort to these measures if they continue to expand their use of treated wastewater as part of large-scale irrigation and encourage district customers to actively practice water conservation at all times, not just times of significant drought.


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One of the reasons I chose to run for North Marin Water District is because I believe the board lacks a voice that is more acutely aware of the need to engage consumers and voters on policy issues specific the district’s financial planning.


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The district is currently raising water rates in Novato and West Marin by 4.5{47cd8eba349f683f2de85772b62751c95a0c636a98ab66a17b94ede9a35c8038} a year, every year for the next five years. That increase in rates is meant to cover costs related to capital improvement projects, pensions, debt service on pensions and loans and funding for infrastructure maintenance and improvement. The district has not accessed grants that significantly cover capital improvement project costs since 2016.



The IJ credits Jim Grossi as if he is equal to Rick Fraites in his participation in district projects however Jim has only served for one year. His impact is not the same. Jim lives on the Marindale Ranch which is located in the watershed and influences the water quality of the Stafford Lake Reservoir with run off from the family’s dairy and cattle operations.


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Cows create manure, manure creates nitrogen, excess nitrogen in Stafford Lake creates algae overgrowth, algae make the water taste bad and requires intensive treatment efforts. Manure run off also impacts Novato Creek. In June of 2017, NMWD spent $7,000 dollars for an engineering report to assess how to mitigate damage caused by land changes on Marindale ranch that impact Novato Creek.


In addition to operations and finance, I am well aware of state legislation that shifts thinking about the actual costs associated with water. First, there is the unit cost which is affected by restrictions on indoor use established through Assembly Bill 1668 and Assembly Bill 606.


Then there is the more critical and complex cost associated with preserving the watershed, creating and maintaining infrastructure to deliver water and finding new sources of water through reclamation, reuse and in some cases desalinization. Desalinization is impractical for NMWD due to cost and environmental issues, but the impact of salinity issues on wells in West Marin, specifically on the Coast Guard property, means the district is actively negotiating the creation of a new well. Climate change and sea level rise have a direct impact on access to clean drinking water.


The bottom line for district customers is that the cost of water will continue to rise as use declines. The only way to gentle down the increase is for the district to apply for state and federal grants. The grants come from tax measures like Proposition 68 which passed in June 2018. Prop 68 authorized $4 billion in general obligation bonds for state and local parks, environmental protection and restoration projects, water infrastructure projects, and flood protection projects.

Unfortunately, there is little feedback from the board and district on other tax measures, like Prop 3 on the November ballot which will cost taxpayers $430 million a year in debt service if passed and will only reach select groups that “paid to play” by having the proposition put on the ballot. While the Marin Board of Supervisors supports the measure, the League of Women Voters and the Sierra Club are against it.


The public needs easy to read information that can help them decide when to say No to new taxes. Measure 3 will create $8.9 billion in new general obligation bonds which will primarily benefit private commercial agriculture.


The reality is – when North Marin Water District is able to access funds through state and federal tax measures rate payers’ costs go down. Right now, 77{47cd8eba349f683f2de85772b62751c95a0c636a98ab66a17b94ede9a35c8038} of NMWD’s revenue comes from fees for service. As a consumer, a ratepayer and a voter, the difficult part is knowing which tax measures trickle down to Novato and West Marin. This is where the board can be proactive and provide information to help voters understand propositions and ballot measures that impact the cost of water.


The IJ endorsements ignore the need for a consumer voice on the water district board – one that is well informed, articulate, educated, inquisitive and willing to dig deeper to understand how to best protect rate payers while preserving access to clean, reliable, affordable water.

I have the requisite skills to assess budgets and pensions, understand and support district operations, support preservation of the watershed, maintain infrastructure and look forward on behalf of consumers and voters to ensure that access to affordable water will be a continued focus. I believe it is time to once again break the glass ceiling by adding a consumer voice to the water board that also happens to be a woman’s voice.


If you are interested in learning more about Tina McMillan’s campaign here is a link to her website and her Facebook page.


Tina McMillan for North Marin Water District, November 2018  Candidate #1411985


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