Delta land buy still a ‘go’

Southern California’s huge water wholesaler declined to reverse course Tuesday on the purchase of roughly 20,000 acres of land in the Delta, a $175 million deal that has Delta advocates worried.

A vote to pull out of the deal failed 54 percent to 29 percent, with another 10 percent abstaining.

The decision came despite Stockton-based Restore the Delta’s delivery of 10,223 signatures from those opposing the purchase. Restore the Delta has argued that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s primary interest in buying the land is to facilitate the construction of Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels.

“We ask, ‘Does it make financial sense for Metropolitan to spend $175 million to purchase land to support an infrastructure project that will not meet Southern California’s water needs?” Esperanza Vielma, with Restore the Delta, asked Metropolitan’s Board of Directors.

Metropolitan hasn’t denied that the tunnels are part of its interest in the property, but says it has other motivations as well, such as shoring up levees and restoring wildlife habitat, actions which in turn could help protect the agency’s water supply.

When Metropolitan first approved the deal earlier this year, some board members made clear they wanted another bite at the apple before escrow closed in June. Representatives from Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Diego voted to block the deal altogether.

Sure enough, after an informational briefing on Tuesday, Keith Lewinger, one of Metropolitan’s San Diego board members, moved to pull out of the deal.

Suja Lowenthal, who represents Long Beach on the board, supported the motion, saying that a position on the tunnels should come before purchasing the property, which would be “premature” at this point.

“I think it would be wise for us to wait,” Lowenthal said.

Other board members disagreed. Gloria Gray, a former member of the state’s Delta Stewardship Council, said Metropolitan’s consideration of the land buy had been “thorough.”

“I think it is a good investment,” she said.

Litigation to stop the deal is still pending, with a key court date scheduled for May 19.

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