Two candidates with very strong agricultural backgrounds are locked in a rare friendly competition to represent the Division 2 seat on the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors.
Division 2 largely encompasses 50,000 residents of Ceres, a mostly urban area that gets its electricity from the utility and where farmers get their irrigation water.
Both Wayne Zipser and David J. Yonan are long-time residents of Ceres running in the Nov. 8 election to succeed retiring board member Charlie Fernandes. Both campaigns express mutual respect for one another.
Zipser, who retired earlier this year as the executive director of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau after more than 35 years, said he had thought about running for the seat when Fernandes retired.
“It was something that I kind of always wanted to do but Charlie Fernandes has done a great job over the years and I would certainly never run against him because there was no reason to,” said Zipser. “And so I saw the opportunity and decided I have time and it was something I wanted to do. I’ve worked a lot in water policy over the years – and locally, especially – and I thought, you know, I have something to contribute.”
Zipser said he encouraged Yonan to run before jumping in the race himself. For a while he questioned if two strong ag candidates should compete but allies forged during his service in the Farm Bureau encouraged him to run.
“I told Dave let’s give voters a choice,” said Ziper. “He certainly has some strengths and I have strengths.”
Besides, he felt, a competitive race would be good given that neither past director Sid Long or Fernandes faced a competitor.
The race is nonpartisan and the competition has remained refreshingly civil.
“Everybody tells me, ‘You keep saying he’s a good guy.’ Well, he is a good guy but quit saying that.”
Yonan, a 1979 graduate of Ceres High School, also believes his opponent is a great guy but signaled that there are differences.
“I actively farm and to my knowledge, Wayne does not,” said Yonan. “I think myself, as an active farmer, I am more vested in the issues of water than someone who’s not an active farmer. I have much more of a numbers background that I think will add value.
“I would describe myself as a Republican farmer who is a fiscal conservative, if I had to sum it up in a handful of words. And I would say the difference between Wayne and I is that I would look with more scrutiny at some of these expenses and costs and hope that with my background we could remain the lowest cost energy in the state and could find some money to give back to the ratepayers because I love doing that stuff; it’s what I’ve done for 37 years. I find pennies, nickels and dimes and I love looking for them.”
Yonan believes that he offers “a little bit more passion, a little more zeal and a little more pop in my step” than his competitor.
He said Fernandes planted the seed to consider running for the seat. When he retired from BoA, Fernandes told him that he was without an excuse.
“So I started attending the weekly meetings Tuesday morning in Turlock and I could see where I could really add value both as a farmer – because I’ve got a vested interest in the water – and my numbers background of 37 years of analyzing financial statements and dealing with similar sized companies to TID’s size in my day job. I think that puts me kind of a little bit of Wayne on some of those open issues where that knowledge base may be a factor to come into play.”
Yonan and his wife farm almonds and wine grapes at Central Avenue and Esmar Road.
Yonan earned a degree in Economics from California State University, Stanislaus and was hired by Bank of America in 1983 to work its Agribusiness Division. He worked his way up in the bank over 37 years before retiring in 2020.
“So I’m the most boring guy in the world,” said Yonan. “I tell people I’ve had one job and one wife.”
As a Farm Bureau director, officer, president and executive director, Zipser has rubbed elbows with a lot of politicians and never been impressed with the occupation but now that he’s walking precincts he has a newfound respect for campaigning.
“This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done,” said Zipser. “I admire anyone that runs for office. I have an all-new appreciation for it. It’s hard work.”
Yonan was tight-lipped about the extent of his campaign activities, saying “we keep that pretty confidential … for strategic reasons.”
Zipser was born and raised in Ceres, and graduated from Ceres High School in 1972. After attending Fresno State he returned home to farm with his father on land that is now the Eastgate planned community in Ceres. After the estate was sold Zipser managed a 1,500-acre farm in a general partnership. When the partners wanted to sell out five years, Zipser couldn’t afford to buy them out.
Zipser said he’s anxious to see the details of the district’s Voluntary Agreement stemming from a court case in which it was ruled that the State Water Board overstepped its bounds on water curtailments in 2015.
Zipser noted: “The irrigation district’s done a good job in Stanislaus County. You look at the WDR map, you know, we’re the only county that’s not critically overdraft. Of course, there’s a lot of people who said, well, yeah, that’s because the state wants our water. ‘You guys are in good shape so we’ll take your water.’”
Yonan also believes that TID is being run in “excellent” fashion.
“They’re a well-oiled machine,” said Yonan. “Can’t say enough good things about (General Manager) Michelle Reimers and the team and board. They’re doing an excellent job and they’re doing exactly what they should be doing with the water wars with the governor and California and those issues. They immediately file lawsuits when things like (water) curtailment happen. They’re quit to get injunctions to stop the state water grab.”
Yonan said he hopes Reimers and TID are able to negotiate where farmers get to keep more of the water being held at Don Pedro Reservoir rather than flushed out to the Delta.
After serving on the SCFB Board for several years, Zipser became executive director in 2003. During his tenure, the Farm Bureau prevailed in a lawsuit with Stanislaus County vs Building Industry Association regarding farmland mitigation, chaired the Stanislaus Water Advisory Committee and co-founded East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition.
In TID Division 3, which covers west of Highway 99 in Ceres all the way to the San Joaquin River, Joe Alamo is running unopposed.