(CN) – Dodging claims that it violated open government and transparency laws before voting to spend $10 billion on a contentious water project, California’s largest water supplier said Thursday it will vote again.
Despite acknowledging that some of its board members privately discussed the contentious project known as the Delta Tunnels before a critical April vote, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California insists it didn’t violate the state’s revered Brown Act.
Hoping to shoo away complaints about the April 10 vote from environmentalists and free speech advocates, the water district which serves approximately 19 million residents says it will hold another public vote in Los Angeles on July 10.
The vote figures to be nothing more than a procedural façade and produce the same outcome, as more water agencies have hopped on board to help fund the estimated $16.7 billion water infrastructure project since the vote.
“Metropolitan acknowledges that some members of the board engaged in private communications and stated their own perspectives to other members of the board in advance of the April 10 meeting,” Metropolitan counsel Marcia Scully said in a memo to Food & Water Watch and the First Amendment Coalition. “Nevertheless, to ensure that there is no question concerning the validity of the board’s consideration…Metropolitan has decided that this matter will be presented to the board of directors anew for consideration.”
California’s landmark Brown Act ensures public access to local government hearings and limits private communication between members before voting on items. The act was passed in 1953 and is a companion to the Bagley-Keene Act regulating state government meetings.
David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, says the powerful agency is talking from “both sides of its mouth.”
“We disagree that they didn’t violate the Brown Act and the fact that they decided to re-vote shows that they understand they didn’t do this correctly,” Snyder said in a phone interview.
In the April vote, Metropolitan’s board agreed to pay for the bulk of the water project officially called the California WaterFix.
The project, opposed by environmentalists but championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, calls for two 35-mile tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The tunnels would funnel water around the West Coast’s largest estuary to farmers and cities in the south, including Los Angeles.
The environmental group Food & Water Watch filed a complaint along with the First Amendment Coalition following the vote. It scoffed at Metropolitan’s response Thursday, saying “it’s too bad we have to enforce Metro to follow the law.”
“Metro very clearly violated the Brown Act,” said Brenna Norton, Food & Water Watch organizer. “This is just a tacit admission that they made this multibillion-dollar decision behind closed doors.”
In its 9-page memo, Metropolitan said board members that talked in private about the WaterFix had already previously voted in favor of funding the project so the private conversations didn’t influence the consequential vote.
Furthermore, the memo said holding a do-over remedies the groups’ complaints and that any further legal action would be “both premature and moot.”
But the groups aren’t satisfied with Metropolitan’s front.
“There’s going to be many efforts to stop the tunnels and this is just a small part of many they can expect,” Norton promised. “This just shows how this agency operates in the shadowy-secrets and doesn’t really care if the public is locked out.”