Newly Elected CVWD Board Member Cástulo Estrada Credits Beaman Law Clients for his Victory
Estrada: New CVWD election system a 'better way'
Ian James, The Desert Sun8:41 p.m. PST November 12, 2014
Cástulo Estrada, the 26-year-old political newcomer who won a seat on the Coachella Valley Water District board in last week's election, is thought to be the first Latino ever elected to the position.
In an interview after the vote, Estrada credited a newly adopted election system with making the ballots of voters in his district count.
"I think it was a great thing to do this voting by division instead of at large. I think it's more representative of the individual communities that exist here in the valley," Estrada said in a telephone interview. "I'm almost certain that if it was still at-large, this wouldn't have been possible."
Voters earlier this year backed a proposal to do away with the water district's at-large election system and adopt a system in which each board member is elected "by division," or by the voters of a single division. That initiative came after a group of voters complained that the at-large system violated the California Voting Rights Act and was unfair to Latino voters.
He said that under the old system it would have been a much closer race, and that he might not have been elected.
Estrada, a utilities engineer-in-training for the city of Coachella, represents Division 5, where Latino voters make up a large majority of his constituency. The district includes Coachella, Thermal, Mecca, Oasis and North Shore.
Estrada handily defeated incumbent Debi Livesay and former CVWD board member Russell Kitahara to secure the seat.
In previous races, Estrada said, there were "instances where the majority of the people in Division 5 would elect a candidate but the other divisions would outvote that person."
"I think this is a better way to do it. I think it's more direct and it just makes more sense," Estrada said.
He is one of two newly elected board members who will join the five-member CVWD board: Patrick O'Dowd, administrator of The Garden Fellowship in Bermuda Dunes, also won a seat and board president John Powell, Jr. was re-elected.
Several other boards in the area have recently decided to do away with their at-large election systems, including College of the Desert as well as the Desert Sands Unified and Palm Springs Unified school districts.
The Coachella Valley Water District, which has about 108,000 customers, serves an area spanning roughly 1,000 square miles from Cathedral City to communities around the Salton Sea. Latino residents make up more than one-third of the voting age population in the area.
Civil rights lawyers Robert Rubin and Megan Beaman, representing a group of several voters, notified the water board of their concerns about the at-large election system last year and had threatened to sue if the system wasn't changed.
Estrada said his priorities will include pushing for the construction of water and sewer lines to serve low-income communities in the eastern Coachella Valley. Many small mobile home parks in the area have long relied on septic tanks and private wells. Some of those water sources are tainted with arsenic or other contaminants, creating a costly problem that forces some families to buy bottled water.
"What I'm saying is that we need to start really addressing the lack of infrastructure and start making goals — five year goals, 10 year goals — of how we want to push the infrastructure," Estrada said.
Ian James can be reached by email at email@example.com and on Twitter: @TDSIanJames.
Coachella Valley to receive drought funding
Water districts in the Coachella Valley will receive $5.2 million from the state for drought-related projects.
The funding from the California Department of Water Resources was announced by the Coachella Valley Regional Water Management Group, which includes the area's five public water agencies as well as the Valley Sanitary District.
Coachella Valley Water District officials said in a statement that the funds will be used for water conservation and recycled water programs that reduce the use of groundwater.
"Funding from this grant also will help address water related issues that impact disadvantaged communities," the district said in the statement.
The funding is part of roughly $221 million awarded statewide by the Department of Water Resources for various drought-related projects.