Environmentalists Claim Delta Tunnels Vote Violated the Brown Act

Gov. Jerry Brown
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Newport Beach, CA

Two groups opposed to California’s Delta Tunnels are alleging that Gov. Jerry Brown violated the Brown Act by improperly lobbying the Metropolitan Water District board members to provide billions of dollars for the project.

The Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides about 30 percent of the water to 19 million people over an area of 5,200-square-miles, seemed opposed in March to funding any part of the cost to build two massive water-sucking tunnels under the California Delta to bring water further south over concerns the project would spike residential water rates.

Environmentalists led by the “Restore the Delta” organization, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, and the “Environmental Justice Coalition for Water” were confident that despite Gov. Brown’s efforts to enhance surface storage and water performance measures to make the project financially more attractive to water districts, the California WaterFix was dead.

Gov. Brown was known to have met with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on April 13 to discuss enhancing federal support for the Delta Tunnels and other water infrastructure impacting public lands.

But Brown reportedly also sent a letter about the project on April 9 letter to Metropolitan Water District staff and directors that environmentalists claim was an effort to lobby privately for votes for the project. The anti-tunnel forces claim the vote that revived the CA WaterFix violated the Brown Act because of the lobbying effort by Brown that included back-channel conversations to circumvent the transparency requirements for public decision-making.

The Food & Water Watch and the First Amendment Coalition sent a letter to the Metropolitan Water District’s Board of Directors that formally accuses them of violations of the Brown Act under California’s open government law by making a multi-billion-dollar decision behind closed doors, before a public vote on the tunnels project:

Brenna Norton, a senior organizer with Food & Water Watch, claimed: “Metropolitan Water District staff and directors, working with Governor Brown, colluded to round up votes to use SoCal ratepayer and taxpayer money to subsidize Central Valley farmers.”

It is doubtful that the environmentalists will gain much traction to stop the project from their letter demanding a re-vote. But momentum continues to grow for the California WaterFix with Santa Clara Valley Water District board of directors voting May 8 to help fund the tunnels.

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