BY DAVID JAMES HEISS
The two men running for the one available director at-large seat of the San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency were given a platform to introduce themselves as part of the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association candidate’s forum held Sept. 16.
The event was intended to be a live Zoom meeting, but technical difficulties relegated the event to the association’s Facebook live feed.
The candidates are both relatively known figures: former Beaumont councilman David Castaldo and former Beaumont-Cherry Valley Recreation and Park District general manager Mickey Valdivia.
Both are friends of Beaumont city councilman Lloyd White, who coordinated the effort on behalf of the tax association, in its inaugural attempt to host such an online event.
David Castaldo has been a water sustainability advocate for 16 years and helped reverse a water deficit from the Beaumont Basin during his time on the board. He served as a liaison from the Beaumont city council when he was a councilman.
Castaldo is a business owner, and runs AC Propane Company in Beaumont.
Mickey Valdivia serves as legislative assistant to county Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, and is a former elected director of the Beaumont-Cherry Valley Recreation & Park District.
During introductory comments, Castaldo said “No matter who you vote for, the agency is going to be in good hands. Both of us is going to look out for your welfare.”
As a four-year member of the board, Castaldo’s observations has been that “It’s been the most aggressive, busy and productive board the agency has ever seen.”
“Few people have true understanding of what goes on behind the wall, down the stream, down the pipes” or “how it gets there,” said Castaldo, who pointed that the water agency has been around for as long as Castaldo has been — since 1961, the year he was born.
Castaldo plans to rely on business acumen to find ways to better serve customers and save money. “When I make mistakes in my business, I pay for it,” he said. “As a board member looking after your money, I think of it as our money, and consider how it should be spent and if it does the right thing.”
Valdivida has lived throughout the Pass area his entire life.
He, too, is an entrepreneur, as he and his wife Christy operate an Air BnB in Cherry Valley.
He wants to focus on capital improvement projects and overcome a communication impasse between the Beaumont-Cherry Valley Water District and the other water purveyors the agency is supposed to work with, and will fight for clean, safe affordable water, and interagency cooperation.
Valdivia serves as policy adviser to Hewitt on transportation and land use issues, code enforcement, and municipalities.
“As a previous board director and former general manager of a district, I understand the nuances and importance of staff reports and delivering those,” and, Valdivia noted, he understood that same standpoint from an elected board’s perspective.
Moderator Debbie Franklin, a former Banning city councilwoman and a representative to the San Gorgonio Pass Regional Water Alliance, asked the candidates as to how they would best utilize the agency’s financial reserves.
Valdivia thinks the agency could have prioritized capital projects other than building recharge and storage facilities.
“With a $14 million reserve, questions whether ratepayers have been overcharged and would strive for sustainable rate increases,” Valdivia said. “We made a promise to deliver state water from Calimesa to Cabazon, the Banning Bench and Poppet Flats; rather than investing in spreading ponds, I would have preferred supporting extension of the pipelines to deliver what we promised to deliver, because those folks have been paying for that since 1961.”
Castaldo took issue that building storage facilities should not have been a priority.
He defended investment of building recharge ponds to collect more rainwater when it comes.
“Capital improvement projects cost money, which comes out of ratepayers’ pockets,” he said. “We could build another water line all the way to Cabazon, but right now we can do it for the city of Banning which already assists Banning Heights, Cabazon and Poppet Flats; we don’t need another capital improvement project. To bring a pipeline to Cabazon will cost $80 to $100 million. The $54 million we have in reserves can only cover half of what we actually owe the state water project for what we have now, and will be on your water bills through 2035 to pay these bills. It’s easy to spend other people’s money. It’s hard to earn it.”
Valdivia said “The East Branch Extension has been started, and we applaud that, but it is by no means near finished. This seat represents the entire Pass, and not specific just to Beaumont” where SGPWA is headquartered.”
The forum is available to view at any time on the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association’s Facebook page.
The tax association seeks sponsors for forums of other political races in the Pass area.
To learn more, e-mail Lloyd White at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at email@example.com , or by calling (951) 849-4586, x114.