Hanlon aims to tip scales toward new era at Three Valleys

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

If this were a year ago, we might be reporting on Jeff Hanlon’s “unlikely” victory in last week’s election to the Division III seat on Three Valleys Municipal Water District’s Board of Directors.

But in the here and now, the political newcomer’s decisive win — with roughly 52% of the vote to 19-year incumbent Brian Bowcock’s 34% (and Javier Aguilar’s 15%) as of November 15 — was less surprising than it was indicative of an increasingly vocal desire among constituents for the board to take a more progressive stance in the face of unprecedented drought.

Still, Hanlon, 40, characterized the race as “mysterious.”

“Being that a lot of voters I reached out to didn’t realize you could even vote for this position, or had never heard of the office,” Hanlon said of the mystery, “unlike, say, city council, which is sort of more out front on very specific issues.”

In fact, Three Valleys was such an unknown Hanlon spent much of his campaign educating voters on what the board is, he said.

Three Valleys’ mission is simple: “… to supplement and enhance local water supplies to meet our region’s needs in a reliable and cost-effective manner,” according to its website. That plainspoken charge was vital in rallying attention to deeper water problems in our region, Hanlon said, spurring new thinking locally and with the various county and state agencies.

Three Valleys is a member of the larger Municipal Water District, which makes decisions about where it spends money, on imports, recycling, groundwater reclamation, conservation and other matters.

“How our water agency interacts with those larger agencies all the way up to the State Water Resource Control Board matters in determining what sort of approaches we want to champion,” Hanlon said.

With Bowcock unchallenged for the last couple of election cycles, Three Valleys was even further off the radar of many voters in the Division III areas of La Verne and Claremont, Hanlon said. Consequently, trying to gauge Bowcock’s “incumbent advantage,” if any, proved nearly impossible.

Clearly the uproar surrounding the controversial Cadiz project played a major role in energizing voters this time around. The Three Valleys Board had for years solidly supported the Los Angeles-based private water company’s decades old plan to extract billions of gallons of water from an aquifer beneath the Mojave Desert. But amid recent public outcry about possible environmental damage, as well as calls for more information and accountability, in September Bowcock and the Three Valleys Board voted to explore how it might extricate itself from its longstanding ties to Cadiz. Though lingering legal entanglements remain quite a real possibility, the uproar in the months leading up to the board’s move did have its advantages.

“In challenging an incumbent, that sort of provides a bit of a referendum on one particular issue that had been before us in this district for a while now, but in just the last couple of years the board had taken some more action in helping Cadiz get a study underway,” Hanlon said.

The apparently unending statewide drought has meant more Californians are realizing it just might be the new norm, Hanlon said. This has resulted in a new push to rethink what water agencies do.

“Not just seeking supplemental imported sources, but a more comprehensive view from top to bottom about how we can conserve, and how we plan for a closer to home water infrastructure that is much more adaptive to new climate change and ongoing drought conditions,” he said.

Hanlon was clear throughout the campaign about his opposition to the board’s previous decisions on both the Cadiz and Bonanza Springs projects. Based on his interactions with sitting board members, he thinks his resistance to those projects has support. He feels the majority of the board is with him in his desire to be aggressive in both severing ties with Cadiz, and in exploring new grant opportunities for the district for conservation measures and local infrastructure projects.

“I think there’s now a bit more environmentally conscious group of board members who might explore some new avenues for the district,” Hanlon said.

Cadiz is now demanding Three Valleys find another public agency to “host it,” Hanlon said, adding he can’t be sure what the state of those negotiations will be by the time he is sworn in at the board’s December 7 meeting.

“But yeah, I have really intense interest in severing this relationship as quickly and as cleanly as possible,” he said.

By his own admission, TVMWD has heretofore been a somewhat obscure entity in the eyes of the public. This is partially due to Bowcock’s tenure being unchallenged up to now, and, somewhat embarrassingly, because of the COURIER’s lack of coverage over the past few years.

Both the COURIER and Hanlon aim to correct this oversight.

“At least in my division, I’m going to be much more active in relaying what’s going on straight to the community. One of the things that I really want to do is start building the board/community relationships in a more robust way so people can find out what is going on, and what we are voting on, rather than having to dig through a website about it.”

Hanlon said he has plenty of folks to thank for his successful first foray into politics.

“We had such an awesome group of volunteers and donors and people who donated tons and tons of time and energy,” he said. “And we’re vindicated for it, so thank you to them.”

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