Can father and daughter serve on the same elected board?

Daily Post Staff Writer

The East Palo Alto Sanitary District’s board decided last night (May 7) to hire a lawyer to give them a second opinion about whether it’s legal for a father and daughter to serve on the board.

Martha Stryker was elected in March to serve on the five-member board, joining her father, Dennis Scherzer, who has been a longtime member of the same board.

During her campaign, Stryker said that she did her own research and found it would be legal to join her father on the board. She said the request to hire a lawyer for a second opinion feels like a personal attack.

“I am fresh, I am new, I am ready to move on and leave all of this baloney behind.” Stryker said. “If you want to spend $10,000 of taxpayer money to make a point … I strongly disagree.”

The sanitary district’s attorney has already written a memo saying that it is legal for Scherzer and Stryker to be on the same board, but board members Glenda Savage and Joan Skyes-Miessi said that they have heard from residents who are concerned that Stryker and Scherzer are on the same board.

Apparently, Skyes-Miessi had asked General Manager Akin Okupe to get a second opinion, but the amount of legal fees surpassed the limit he can spend without going to the board. Around $4,000 had been spent on getting a second opinion before Okupe found out the cost would go over his limit.

Skyes-Miessi also said that she has some “real concerns” about the potential erosion of the democratic process of the board.

Top vote-getter

Stryker pointed out that she was the highest vote-getter in the March election, with 1,781 people voting for her, or 25.37% of the vote, some 400 votes above the second place winner, incumbent Betsy Yanez.

Ultimately, the board voted 3-2, with Yanez, Skyes-Miessi and Savage voting to move forward with the second opinion, agreeing to spend $10,000 in addition to the $4,000 in legal fees Okupe has already racked up.

The board last night also discussed the sewer hook-up fees it intends to charge developers, which some say are excessive.

On Tuesday, City Council decided to sit down with the district in order to find out why it is holding up development projects in town with its demands for fees. The main project the city is worried about is the addition of 91 low-income apartments at the Light Tree Apartment complex at 1805 E. Bayshore Road. The city has put $4 million into the project, and is a partial recipient of the $20 million grant the city received from the state.

If the project does not get a letter saying the sewer district will serve the project by June 14, the city could lose the state grant.

Okupe said that he had completed his analysis of the project and determined that the sewer pipes underneath the project are full, which would require an upgrade of the pipes.

According to a presentation the council heard on Tuesday, the district has told Light Tree it needs to pay $4 million in fees for the upgrade.

However, Okupe said that the district’s consultant is preparing a cost table to show what developers ought to pay.

Project Manager Matt Schreiber told the board that Light Tree is willing to pay its fair share, and said that aside from the additions to the complex, there will be changes made to the rest of the building that will result in a decrease in pipe use.

Scherzer at one point reprimanded Schreiber for coming to the board a month before needing its approval.

However, as Schreiber pointed out in his comments, the city had sent the district information on the project in 2018.

Anonymous commentary about Scherzer

After Scherzer finished his comments, someone watching the meeting via Zoom said “ugh, listen to this a**hole.”

At which point, Skyes-Miessi reminded everyone to make sure their microphones were muted.

Ultimately, the board agreed that it will hold a special meeting on Thursday at 7 p.m. to discuss the Light Tree project. The board also instructed Stryker and Yanez to meet with council members Regina Wallace-Jones and Larry Moody before Thursday’s meeting.


  1. Very simple solution to this. Dennis Scherzer moved out of East Palo Alto to a town about four hours away from the Bay Area more than a decade ago. He can resign and stop making that grueling trip from Covelo once a month. Problem solved!

  2. The memo from EPASD’s general legal Counsel, Mala Suramanian,was the result of a project requested of legal counsel. The memo is dated January 23, 2020. (I haven’t acquired a copy of the invoice of Ms. Subramanian’s work, therefore I don’t know how much was spent on the memo.) The memo unequivically states that relatives can serve on the same governmental body. Case law apparently refers to husband/wife serving concurrently.
    Additionally,the memo explains that the EPASD Board can’t establish policy that forbids family members from serving on the same committee.
    OK. These are good questions, however why ask them, why spend $10K of taxpayer money in January, when the election is in March? If the relative wins, and is elected, then these questions apply to existing circumstances.
    The reason that the money was spent in Jaanuary was in a vain attempt to discover some law, some regulation that would eother disqualify Martha Stryker, or otherwise cloud her election prospects. This was done to support the candidacy of incumbernts Goro Mitchell, Glenda Savage, and Betsy Yanez.

  3. If I recall correctly, in Redwood City, councilman Jim Hartnett married councilwoman Rosanne Foust, and they both continued to serve on council. So having family members in the same board isn’t unprecedented.

    • Additionally, in East Palo Alto in the late 70’s both Brad Stamper and Brad Stamper Jr. ran successfully for the Ravenswood Recreation and Park District Board. Their campaign slogan was, “Vote for Brad and Dad”. Those of us from around here remember that.

  4. EPASD should be disbanded. It’s a holdover from before East Palo Alto was a City. Right now, their existence is just a bureaucratic barrier to progress and comprehensive utilities management for the city.

    • EPASD was founded by local residents in 1939. They took advantage of Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds to get started. The relationship with the Palo Alto treatment plant began in 1940. The people of this community constructed their own sanitary sewer system. They have operated and maintained it for over 80 years.

      EPASD serves a portion of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Just about every parcel in the District is connected to our system, the system that we, the people of this community built for ourselves.

      EPASD represents a local autonomy that external forces have tried to destroy for decades. Why? To get their hands on EPASD’s money to divert it use from providing for the local sewer system.

      One element runs through the comments and character of the people who want to destroy our community resource – they represent external influences, and they have little or no knowledge of the wastewater industry.

      And, I notice that the critics speak without identifying themselves. Who are these people? Why do they attack our community?

    • Former EPASD Director, Goro Mitchell correctly pointed out that the City surrendered its management of EPA’s water to a private company, and if they can’t manage that water utility, how can they be expected to manage the sewers (used water)?

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