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FPUD one step closer to changing election method

Senate Bill 927, which would allow the Fallbrook Public Utility District to change its method of electing directors from at-large seats to by territorial unit, passed out of the State Senate's Governance and Finance Committee on a 7-0 vote March 30.

“We were pleased with the support of the committee and look forward to testifying if necessary before the Elections Committee,” said FPUD general manager Brian Brady.

The passage out of the Governance and Finance Committee sends the legislation to the State Senate's Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee, which is expected to hold a hearing on the bill in late April.

Section 15972 of the California Public Utilities Code stipulates that if the entirety of a public utility district is in the same county the board shall have five directors elected at large. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) believes that FPUD's at-large election system is a violation of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. MALDEF chose to sue FPUD for following state law rather than suing the state, and in an apparent settlement, FPUD's board voted 5-0 March 7 to approve a resolution to change the method of election from at large to by division while also creating a map for the five divisions.

State Senator Joel Anderson has introduced enabling legislation to allow FPUD to elect its directors by territorial unit. A previous exemption gave public utility districts within Placer County the option of electing its directors at large or by wards. Anderson's Senate Bill 927 would allow public utility districts within San Diego County to elect its board members at large or by subdistrict. FPUD is the only public utility district in San Diego County.

SB 927 has been introduced as urgency legislation on the grounds that the change would bring public utility districts in San Diego County into compliance with the California Voting Rights Act. Urgency legislation requires a two-thirds vote in both the State Senate and the State Assembly for passage but would take effect immediately rather than on January 1 of the following year. That would allow FPUD to begin elections by division with the three seats up for election in November 2016.

The March 24 meeting of the San Diego County Water Authority included the SDCWA board adopting a position of support for SB 927. The state legislative committee of the Association of California Water Agencies voted for ACWA to endorse SB 927, and the California Special Districts Association has also taken a position in support of Anderson's legislation. Anderson and Brady spoke on behalf of SB 927 at the State Senate hearing March 30 while ACWA and CSDA representatives were present to indicate their support for the measure.


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