By Len Ramirez

SAN JOSE (KPIX) — The powerful Santa Clara Valley Water District has a new CEO, Rick Callender.

The 49-year-old Callender grew up in San Jose and graduated from Santa Teresa High School. He has been with the district for 24 years and is the first African-American to head the agency in its 90-year history.

READ MORE: Man Sentenced to 9 Years in Prison For Horrific Box Cutter Attack on Elderly Victim in Concord

Rick Callender is well known for his political connections and his role as the long time former head of the local NAACP.

“As a long time employee of Valley Water, I know the operations, I know how to navigate the communities. But I think I bring a unique view, especially at this time right now, being able to make sure we have equity in everything we do internally and externally with this organization,” Callender said.

Callender was an aide to former San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer. He’s worked at Valley Water since 1996 and most recently was Chief of External Affairs.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Suspect Arrested After Armed Standoff In San Jose Neighborhood

He was the president of the Silicon Valley chapter of the NAACP from 2000 to 2008. The current president called Callender’s appointment as CEO of the Water District historic.

“Most of the water districts and boards across the state and nation have been dominated by the White majority. Rick is concerned about the African American and Latino communities who have been left out of water policies in the past,” said Rev. Jethroe Moore, the President of the NAACP Silicon Valley chapter.

Callender will have his hands full leading the water agency through the pandemic and the ever-looming possibility of drought, while still overseeing major projects including the Anderson Dam retrofit, the Pacheco dam construction and numerous flood control projects.

He said the 2017 flood of Coyote Creek, which affected mostly low-income people in the Rock Springs neighborhood is an example of the inequities he hopes to fix.
“Most often it’s people of color who live in our flood prone areas of this valley. We need to make sure that we are providing equity and flood protection for everyone,” said Callender. ”Yes, there are a lot of homeless who live in the creeks, and that’s one of the things I want to look into in the future, how do we deal with them in a humanistic way?”

MORE NEWS: Police Investigating Hayes Valley Shooting After Driver Critically Injured

Calender was voted in by the board in a close 4-to-3 split. He’ll take home a salary of $326,000.