.Rebecca Eisenberg Hearing

The Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors censured elected board member Rebecca Eisenberg last week for a pattern of abusive conduct toward water district employees, including racist and sexist comments.

Following an often tense four-and-a-half hour public hearing, the board also stripped Eisenberg of all internal and external committee assignments, limited her interaction with district employees for at least a year and required her to enroll in anti-discrimination and anti-bullying training.

The board action followed hours of public comments that included calls for her resignation and a tearful apology from Eisenberg.

The embattled director’s contrite and apologetic demeanor contrasted sharply with months of combative and confrontational behavior that led to an investigative report substantiating numerous allegations of abusive conduct, as well as commentaries on her Medium pages sharply critical of district policies and the district’s treatment of her.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen decided not to charge Eisenberg for theft charges that had been sought by Valley Water CEO Rick Callender. Eisenberg in January walked out of the district office carrying a copy of a 2,000-page report that accused her of the abusive conduct.

In response to an inquiry from San Jose Inside, the District Attorney’s Office released a statement confirming that decision.

“We did not charge Director [Rebecca] Eisenberg with a crime for taking the investigative report printout because there was insufficient evidence of the criminal intent necessary for a theft charge,” the DA statement said. “This decision does not condone Director Eisenberg’s conduct, nor does it affect the Water District’s civil or internal proceedings related to this matter.”

Eisenberg also was censured by the board for “mishandling confidential information”—taking the report home, even though she assured the board that she shared the document with no one, not even her lawyer.

Board Chair Nai Hsueh formally asked Eisenberg to return her copy of the report, which identified district employees and managers who had been targets of months of criticism from Eisenberg.

The censured director refused, claiming that she no longer had the report. She said she turned the report and all of her water district files over to federal officials, who she hoped would open an investigation of what she said were corrupt and fraudulent actions by Valley Water in the district’s applications for federal aid for water conservation and flood control projects, including the controversial Pacheco Dam project. She has declined to offer any details of the allegations.

Speakers at the hearing included several representatives from the NAACP and others who called for Eisenberg’s immediate resignation because of the allegations of racist comments to staff and fellow board members.

Other speakers from Valley Water’s District 7 warned that curtailing Eisenberg’s activities in committee and staff work could effectively disenfranchise residents of the northern section of the sprawling water district.

Director Tony Estramera gave the following examples of Eisenberg’s behavior in 2023 that an independent investigation had substantiated:

  • Sexist – “Men love to build things.”
  • Racist – “English isn’t your first language” to Hsueh.
  • Ageist – “I’m the only non-Boomer on the board.”

The report substantiated seven allegations from Callender, but could not substantiate another 18. The report specifically did not determine that Eisenberg’s numerous run-ins with the Valley Water CEO were based on his sex or the fact that he is Black, as he alleged.

In response to Eisenberg’s apologies, Estramera said, “You’ll have an opportunity to show us whether you definitely have changed.”

Eisenberg said last year that the investigation had been in retaliation for her raising concerns of rampant sexism at the water district and for criticizing the Pacheco Dam project.

At last week’s hearing, she was conciliatory and contrite. “I have chosen not to continue this battle,” Eisenberg told the board. “I have chosen not to fight with you—there has been too much distraction.”

“I am grateful for this investigation,” she said. “I take very seriously that I have offended others and hurt the feelings of others, and I take responsibility for those actions.”

Walter Wilson, one of dozens of speakers at the hearing, discounted the value of Eisenberg’s apologies. “Racism and sexism has no place in Silicon Valley,” he said. “I’m shocked that this board, that none of you guys stood up and defended those people [from Eisenberg’s alleged abusive conduct].”

Mike Kasperzak, a former Mountain View mayor and council member, pleaded with the water board: “We deserve a fully operational director. Removing her from committees…hurts the people of the district—you are affecting their rights as customers and citizens.”

barry holtzclaw, managing editor sanjoseinside
Barry Holtzclawhttp://sanjoseinside.com/
Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with Weeklys Publishing since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.

1 COMMENT

  1. If those were the most racist, sexist, ageist comments she made, censuring her is absurd. Or a cover to Launder Money through the Pacheco Dam project. Me thinks they doth protest too much.

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