Extends term limits for the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors to four successive four-year terms, from three successive four-year terms.
What the Measure Would Do
Measure A would increase the number of consecutive four-year terms that Santa Clara Valley Water District (Valley Water) board members could serve from three to four, effectively changing the current term limit of 12 consecutive years to 16 consecutive years in office.
This measure would not amend the existing law that allows members to leave the board for four years and then restart their term-limit clock if they are reelected. So if this measure passes, board members could potentially serve 16 years, take four years off, and return for another 16 years.
Currently, members of the Valley Water board are limited to three consecutive four-year terms. These term limits were approved by Santa Clara voters for the first time in November 2010. Board members who were serving before November 2010 are currently eligible to serve three consecutive terms (12 years) starting in 2010 and terming out in 2022.
In developing this measure, Valley Water staff reports indicate that the district has identified a need for continuity of governance and oversight to carry forward its strategies to respond to both long-term climate change and infrastructure projects in the district.
Several Valley Water board members are reaching the end of their third successive term this November. Five of the seven current board members’ terms expire in 2022 or 2024. The timing of this ballot measure would benefit those members who are reaching their term limits.
Valley Water is a special district that can put measures before the voters by a vote of its board. This process includes writing the question the voters will be asked on the ballot. There is concern that the board wrote and approved a misleading question, implying that the ballot measure would be establishing term limits for the first time rather than extending existing term limits.
For most political offices, the power of incumbency grants advantages to those seeking reelection and presents an uphill battle for challengers. It’s difficult to unseat incumbent candidates due to their advantages in name recognition, established fundraising and campaign bases, and a presumption of success, all of which typically leads to elected officials reaching their full term limits. Since 2010, no incumbent Valley Water board member has lost their seat in an election, and most have stood for reelection unopposed.
This measure was put on the ballot by a simple majority vote of the Valley Water Board of Directors. It requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.
We did not identify any meaningful equity impacts for this measure.
- The measure as proposed will allow for board members to serve a total of 16 consecutive years in office, allowing voters to reelect experienced directors and opt for continuity of governance at one of the county’s largest government agencies.
- The current term limit of 12 consecutive years in office already strikes a good balance between allowing voters to reelect experienced directors and encouraging new political talent and new perspectives on the board.
- The wording of the question that will be asked of voters is misleading, implying that the ballot measure would establish term limits for the first time rather than extend existing term limits.
Elected officials and boards have difficult issues to address, but extending the number of terms officials are allowed to serve does not necessarily provide a solution, particularly for challenges such as climate change, which will not be solved in one generation.
Shorter term limits can help ensure a seamless transition, in which one generation of elected officials learns the ropes from the existing generation and then passes on their knowledge to the next generation. Given the large pool of innovative and talented thinkers in Santa Clara County, expanding the number of terms that directors can serve could limit access to new ideas in addressing old and continuing issues.
The current term limit of 12 consecutive years in office already strikes a good balance between allowing voters to reelect experienced directors and encouraging new political representation to address difficult issues.