In a surprise announcement, Joe Judge, the longest-serving member of the Santa Clara Valley Water District board, said Tuesday he will not seek re-election in November.
The decision means that starting next year, five members of the 7-member board will have been newly elected during the past four years -- a historic changing of the guard for an agency criticized in recent years by the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury for its high employee salaries, conflicts of interest and excessive spending on questionable projects.
Judge, 66, was appointed to the board in 1986. He owns Judge Construction in San Jose and had filed to run for re-election in November. But he faced a stiff challenge from two candidates, deputy county assessor David Ginsborg and Barbara Keegan, a civil engineer.
A Democrat with close ties to U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, Judge could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
"I have served with many outstanding directors, past and present," he said in a statement, "and I have had the honor to work with the dedicated and talented employees of the water district, who have worked tirelessly every day to ensure that we enjoy a safe and reliable water supply."
The water district, a government agency based in San Jose, provides drinking water and flood control to 1.8 million people in Santa Clara County. It has an annual budget of roughly $300 million, placing among the largest government agencies in the
Judge, who said he will retire at the end of this year, represents District 2, which includes downtown San Jose, portions of East San Jose and Willow Glen.
A builder who once was discussed as a candidate for county supervisor, he was hired in 1982 by Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak to construct facilities for the US Festival in San Bernardino County. After the festival, Judge went to work for Economic and Social Opportunities Inc., Santa Clara County's community action agency, to supervise the reconstruction of several Alviso homes damaged in the 1983 flood.
In 1986, he was appointed to the water district board by then-supervisor Lofgren.
The water district has largely been a low-profile agency, but after 2000 when voters narrowly approved a parcel tax for creeks, it dramatically expanded its staff, salaries and spending, drawing criticism from the county grand jury, state officials and others. Now, with new board members, including Don Gage, Brian Schmidt and Linda LeZotte, numerous reforms have been put in place and the agency plans to ask voters in November to renew the $54-per home annual tax, needing a two-thirds vote.
"I would think the reformers will think it's a good thing," San Jose state political science professor Larry Gerston said of Judge's retirement. "Critics will say, unintentionally or otherwise, he has been part of the problem. It's not so much dereliction, it's been an inattentive board, particularly for an agency with such a big budget."
Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN