Delta interests get another delay on islands sale
Delta interests won another last-minute, temporary reprieve on Friday in their efforts to block Southern California's controversial $175 million purchase of about 20,000 acres of land in the fragile estuary.
The deal had been expected to close as soon as next week, after the 3rd District Court of Appeal on Thursday lifted an order that had delayed the purchase for several weeks.
But the court reinstated that order Friday after San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties, along with Delta farmers and environmentalists, pleaded for time to persuade the state Supreme Court to take up the matter.
Twice now, the sale of land to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has been within hours or days of consummation only to be delayed by the courts. The sale originally was supposed to close on June 8.
The court's latest decision blocks the sale until July 15, or until the Supreme Court takes action on the counties' request.
“We believe the case raises significant issues of statewide importance and the California Supreme Court should have the opportunity to rule against Metropolitan’s actions before Metropolitan takes ownership of the Delta islands," said Stockton attorney Brett Jolley, representing the county. "The appellate court’s reinstatement of the injunction preserves the status quo and allows for meaningful Supreme Court consideration of our case.”
Delta attorneys have warned that once the deal is finalized, it will be more difficult to overturn should they prevail in their lawsuit.
Metropolitan, which provides Delta drinking water to 19 million southland residents, agreed in April to purchase the land from a private company controlled by Swiss investors. Metropolitan has cited a range of possible uses for the land, including facilitating Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed twin tunnels by providing an area to stage construction equipment or store spoils.
Delta advocates argue that Metropolitan cannot buy the property without first having conducted environmental studies. They say the purchase is a "project" under the California Environmental Quality Act, and must be closely scrutinized before it can move forward.
Metropolitan officials counter that they have not decided on a specific use for the property and say that no environmental studies are yet required.
A San Joaquin County Superior Court judge sided with Metropolitan, but Delta attorneys appealed.
A separate lawsuit arguing that the deal violates the terms of an earlier legal settlement involving the properties is still pending.