Polite pleasantries were exchanged. A chocolate brownie was offered as a “welcome to the neighborhood” gift.
But in the end, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s visit to the belly of the beast — i.e., downtown Stockton, where the Delta Protection Commission met on Thursday night — revealed few new insights about the southland’s recent purchase of 20,000 acres of land in the Delta.
Randy Record, chair of Metropolitan’s Board of Directors, acknowledged that portions of the land could help facilitate Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels project, which the commission opposes.
But he also said the islands might be even more important if the tunnels aren’t built. Possible uses include fortifying levees to protect L.A.’s water as it passes through the Delta, and restoring wildlife habitat in an effort to improve the Delta’s ecosystem.
Why would the Met care about the health of the Delta? Because the amount of water it can squeeze out of the estuary has been limited by the collapse of the environment.
“We need to help figure out what’s going on here as far as the ecosystem is concerned,” Record said. “We want to be part of a project that helps get things back on track.”
Little has changed since the $175 million purchase was consummated two months ago, he said. Metropolitan has not terminated any farming leases. The land manager who worked for the previous owner is still on the job. “It’s business as usual,” Record said.
Asked by commissioners about property taxes, he said Metropolitan has “every intention” of paying them.
Steve Arakawa, the Met’s manager for Delta initiatives, said there is “no blueprint” for what to do with the islands. “We don’t have a master plan,” he said.
And, he said, Metropolitan doesn’t want to isolate itself from its new neighbors.
“We hope this is a start in terms of talking about these things,” he said.
Critics of the Met did some talking of their own on Thursday. Delta levee engineer Chris Neudeck asked the commission why Metropolitan did not support a recent bill to indefinitely extend state funding to bolster levees.
“Now that they bought four islands, why aren’t they participating as a good neighbor?” Neudeck said.
(Arakawa responded that Metropolitan opposed the bill because the district wants to see the state’s separate process to prioritize levee investments play out first.)
Others were skeptical that Metropolitan’s intentions were as benevolent as they sounded. A speaker, whose name I didn’t quite catch, began by saying he wanted to quote Mark Twain. Thankfully, it wasn’t the old “whiskey is for drinking” cliche that Twain may never even have uttered.
Instead, the quote was, “When somebody comes explicitly to do you good, you should run like hell.”
All in all, though, it was a civil, if not terribly enlightening, discussion. Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson even brought a brownie for Record, the Metropolitan chairman. Record accepted it with thanks.
Alas, he took it for the road, leaving before he had a chance to hear public comments, much to the dismay of some Delta advocates.
They’d been hoping to get to know their new neighbor just a bit better.