Two incumbents, pair of high-profile challengers win seats in crowded Rancho Water board election

Two longtime Temecula-area water district directors easily won re-election but two others were ousted by a pair of high profile challengers.

One of the successful challengers, Angel Garcia, tasted victory after repeatedly falling short in his bids to win seats on the Temecula school board and the Temecula City Council.

The other winning challenger, Carol Lee Brady, is a political newcomer who is the wife of a prominent figure in Temecula and Fallbrook water circles.

Incumbents William Plummer and Ben Drake held onto their seats by finishing first and second respectively in a crowded race for four open seats on the Rancho California Water District board. But incumbents Steve Corona and John Hoagland lost the board seats that they each had held for the past 16 years.

Drake theorized that many voters were seeking a new mix on Rancho’s board when they marked their ballots in the recent mail election.

“I think sometimes there needs to be a change on boards,” Drake said in a post-election telephone interview. “Sometimes it’s good to have a little shake-up.”

Plummer, who did scant campaigning in the nine-candidate race, finished first with 14.2 percent of the votes cast. He is a retired water resources engineer who has served on Rancho’s board for the past 12 years.

Drake, who finished second with 12.8 percent of the votes, was first elected to Rancho’s board in September 2001. He owns a grove, vineyard and farm management company.

Garcia, a businessman, finished third with 12.8 percent of the votes. Garcia made his first foray into politics when he unsuccessfully ran for the Temecula school board in 2010 at age 18. He unsuccessfully ran for the Temecula council in 2014 and 2016.

Brady captured the fourth available seat by netting 12.2 percent of the votes. Brady owns a vineyard in Temecula’s wine country and is active with that area’s winegrowers association and its resource conservation district.

Her husband, Brian, is a former Rancho general manager who now holds that post for the nearby Fallbrook Public Utility District.

Challenger Lou Williams finished fifth with 11.6 percent, but he did not win a seat. He edged out Corona and Hoagland, both of whom were elected to Rancho’s board in September 2001.

Rancho serves a 100,000-acre area – approximately 150 square miles – that is home to about 150,000 people and encompasses Temecula and parts of Murrieta, French Valley, the Santa Rosa Plateau and the wine country.

About 30 percent of the district’s water supply comes from its vast underground supplies. Rancho relies on that source to meet much of its residential, commercial and agricultural demands.

The district owns Vail Lake, which was created in 1948 after the owners of Vail Ranch erected a dam on Temecula Creek, one of several main tributaries of the Santa Margarita River. Vail Lake is about 10 miles east of Temecula. The water held there is used by Rancho to recharge its underground basins.

Once largely anchored by local farmers and growers, Rancho’s seven-member board slowly absorbed a mix of business, development and water industry representatives over the past few decades. But the arrival of new faces to Rancho’s dais has occurred sporadically over the past three decades.

Part of Carol Lee Brady’s name recognition can be attributed to her husband. Brian Brady served as Rancho’s general manager from 2003 to 2008. He won a seat on Rancho’s board in August 2011, but was barred from serving due to a potential conflict of interest with his FPUD position.

Brian Brady has been a polarizing figure in Fallbrook-area water politics. He drew sharp criticism during a failed attempt to merge FPUD with the neighboring Rainbow Municipal Water District. The proposed merger sparked considerable acrimony in the community before it was rejected by a San Diego County boundary-setting agency in September 2015.

Carol Brady’s candidate statement said her experiences would give Rancho’s board “a balanced perspective and fresh ideas.” Three attempts to reach her for a telephone interview were unsuccessful. Another message left at Brian Brady’s FPUD office also went unanswered.

Garcia’s accessibility stands in sharp contrast to Brady’s. Garcia was the only candidate to list his phone number in his candidate statement, an action he said netted him more than 50 calls in the weeks leading to the election.

Garcia, 25, said his candidate statement has a served as a magnet that won him the attention and support of many voters.

He was the only challenger whose statement was openly critical of some Rancho policies. He vowed to “address RCWD high executives’ salaries and perks” whenever the board ponders its next rate increase.

His statement declared: “Enough is enough! Stop the increase! Cut the fat!”

That message resonated with voters, Garcia said in a post-election phone interview. He said he plans to bring the same accessibility and candid appraisals to his board position.

“You’ve seen what I bring to the table and I’m not one to hold back,” he said. “I don’t intend to be shy in this post, but at the same time I don’t mean to be combative. I’m looking forward to serving with the other board members. That’s what leadership’s all about.”

Drake said in his interview that both newcomers will have a “sharp learning curve” ahead of them when they take office.

He said the Rancho board will lose a pair of directors who have vast experience in water issues and district management nuances. Conversely, Drake said board turnover can benefit the district by interjecting a fresh perspective on Rancho issues and policies.

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