Running in El Dorado Irrigation District Division 4 is Jake Flesher, 39. His campaign website is jake4eidratepayers.com.
A resident of El Dorado Hills, Flesher received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and his law degree from McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific. He previously worked as a deputy district attorney in Ventura County before moving to El Dorado County nine years ago. He now is a partner, owner and manager of a law firm with offices in Folsom and San Francisco.
Flesher said he understands the importance of water issues after working as a farmer in Kern County for a year before entering law school. As a business owner, he says he knows what it takes to make payroll, to run a company and be successful at it.
What sparked his interest initially in running for the EID board was the rate hike information he received. Later it hit home personally when he was serving on the board of the El Dorado Hills Little League and the president told them they would have to raise field rates, in part, because of rising water rates. “That really got me interested in what was going on,” he said. “When I saw a district position was opening up, rather than complain I decided to do something about it.”
Flesher said as a board member he hopes to stop further rate hikes. “EID has planned for an 11 (percent) increase this year and next. There is also the issue of debt and spending. What I bring to the table is someone who is fiscally responsible, has a business mind and can approach things from the perspective of Division 4 voters.”
As far as what separates him from his opponent, Flesher said there is a generational difference. “My opponent has lived in this county as long as I’ve been alive,” he said. There are more and more families with children and I’m a better representative of these folks. I also didn’t hear him say it, but I don’t intend to take any health benefits or stipend that comes with being a board member. You can’t ask people to cut things at EID without making cuts yourself. ”
As far as the biggest challenges facing EID, Flesher says it is debt. “They have, depending on who you talk to, $390 to $450 million of debt. That’s a lot of debt. My solution is to have a moratorium on new debt. That would be my immediate goal when I get in. Let’s not take on any more debt until we have a plan to reduce the debt we have.”
Admitting he has not attended many board meetings, Flesher said he has instead listened to tapes and one of the things he’d propose is setting times so working people can attend and give input at board meetings. “The public needs to be heard on things like rate issues,” he said.
Saying he is interested foremost in programs or approaches that help rein in the debt, he proposed sitting down with the general manager and establishing a budget. There have to be priority levels within that budget with the top priority being the health and safety of ratepayers, he said. Next would be regulatory compliance issues so the district doesn’t get hit with fines. Rather than build our budget around projects we’d like to get done, we need to approach it from the perspective of funding just the top priorities, he added.
Flesher admits some cuts might have to be made to the organization but he said he hasn’t studied the issue enough to say what they would be. “In any organization you have to pull your own weight. EID should not be a jobs or works project.”
As for the issue of excess capacity and water rights, Flesher said EID currently sells only about half of its water. He believes it’s because EID anticipated a demand for water that never materialized due to the housing bubble.
“Building for growth that never happened is a big factor in the level of debt and rates we have,” he said. As for protecting the district’s water rights, he suggested using the water rights the district currently has such as Folsom Lake with its 17,000 acre feet. “Project 184 water is pretty solid in terms of water rights,” he added, “so let’s use Folsom Lake water to the extent we can and think about options for Project 184 water to create some revenue.”
Circling back to his main theme of debt, Flesher noted that before the city of Detroit declared bankruptcy, its debt service was 25 percent of revenue. “EID, depending on the number you look at — 25 percent of it goes to debt service. If you look at just the ratepayer’s portion, it’s more like 32 percent,” he said, noting he has some very serious concerns about its future.
“I have two children and don’t want to exploit them for this. But I want this to be a place where they want to come back here to live. And I want them to be able to afford to live here. And to the extent that I can start working on things now to make that possible, even if a small part is stepping up and helping on an irrigation district, then it’s my hope that I can do that. I know there are a lot of ratepayers out there that think the same thing — they’d like their kids to live near them and they want to make it so they can afford to live here.”
In his closing comments, Flesher added, “Something I’m learning in this whole process is that there are several counties here. There’s the ag community, there’s Placerville — and it’s different from Cameron Park and Tahoe. But it’s a great place to live. It’s diverse and there are a lot of great people here. A lot of different people, but a lot of great people.”