Stark Contrasts in EBMUD Race 

Environmentalist Marguerite Young is taking on moderate incumbent Kay Foulkes in a fight over water-wasting and the protection of the East Bay's primary water source.

Your opinion about whether government is doing a good job protecting the environment and dealing with climate change and the drought may go a long way toward shaping your decision on who to vote for this November. That's especially true in the race for Ward Three of the East Bay MUD board of directors — a seat that includes a portion of Oakland and the cities of Piedmont, Orinda, Moraga, and El Sobrante, along with portions of Richmond and Pinole.

The incumbent, Katy Foulkes, is a political moderate who generally avoids taking tough stands on water-wasting and usually prefers a cautious approach to environmental issues. By contrast, her challenger, Marguerite Young, is a longtime environmental and labor activist who advocates for decisive action to protect the environment and to curtail water-wasting during the drought. In short, if you're a moderate or conservative, Foulkes is probably your favored candidate, but if you generally side with environmentalists and labor, then Young is likely your pick.

Indeed, Foulkes acknowledged in an interview for this story that she believes Young would make a great addition to the East Bay MUD board, but argued that because of her liberal politics, Young would be better suited for a seat that represents Berkeley, Oakland, and other progressive cities on the west side of the hills — and not more moderate cities like Piedmont and communities east of the hills. It's worth noting that East Bay MUD board members Andy Katz and Doug Linney, who are both environmentalists and represent portions of Oakland, Berkeley, and Alameda, endorsed Young's campaign against Foulkes. So if Young wins, environmentalists will have considerable influence on the seven-member board. Young "would be a tremendous addition to that board," said Oakland Councilmember Dan Kalb, who is also an environmentalist and represents portions of North Oakland that overlap with Ward Three. "I think she is the most qualified candidate for that board in decades."

The two issues that perhaps best illustrate the differing viewpoints and approaches of Foulkes and Young are the drought and the protection of the Mokelumne River — the East Bay's primary water source.

Earlier this year, the East Bay MUD board, led in part by Foulkes, drew strong criticism from environmentalists when it refused to support legislation in Sacramento that sought to designate a section of the Mokelumne River in the Sierra foothills as "wild and scenic." Such a designation would have provided full protection to the Mokelumne under state law. The legislation was authored by state Senator Loni Hancock of Berkeley.

Young, who worked for twenty years with environmental groups Clean Water Action and the League of Conservation Voters, advocated strongly for Hancock's bill. But Foulkes and the board majority sided with conservative water agencies in the foothills that objected to the wild and scenic designation because they feared it might block their ability to extract more water from the Mokelumne watershed. In an interview, Foulkes argued that environmentalists should have hammered out a compromise with the foothills water agencies. "Do you just abandon your fellow water agencies, or do you say that you need something for everyone?" said Foulkes, who has served on the EBMUD board for twenty years. Foulkes, however, acknowledged that a compromise between the two sides might not have been possible. East Bay MUD's decision to oppose Hancock's bill was widely credited as being pivotal in defeating it. Foulkes voted to oppose the legislation twice.

Foulkes, who lives in Piedmont, also has opposed the idea of penalizing water wasters in the drought. And while she said she supports the idea of charging water hogs steeper rates for heavy water usage, she has yet to push for such a plan. Foulkes also voted against a proposal by board member Katz that would have slashed water rates for low-income residents. As for Young, she said she believes in creating a fairer rate system that requires heavy water users to pay more than they do now and keeps "rates affordable for people who have been conserving all along."

Young, an Oakland resident who also worked for twelve years for the Service Employees International Union, also has advocated strongly for quickly upgrading East Bay MUD's 4,000-plus miles of aging water pipes. "One major earthquake in the wrong place and we're cooked," she said. Young acknowledged that pipe upgrades will be costly, but argued that the East Bay MUD board has ignored the issue for too long and has been focused too much on keeping water rates low for residents who use lots of water and live east of the hills. "It's time for a fresh perspective on the board," she said.

Young has scored a number of significant endorsements from environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, and from organized labor. Oakland Councilmember Libby Schaaf, who represents the area of the Oakland hills that overlaps with EBMUD's Ward Three, also has endorsed Young. Young also is endorsed by the Democratic Party in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

As for Foulkes, she has won numerous endorsements from elected officials east of the hills.

Correction: The original version of this story contained a typographical error. East Bay MUD has 4,000-plus miles of water pipes -- not 400-plus miles.

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