“Confidential” Documents Reveal State Plans to Take Delta Farms

Public opposition & lack of permits don’t deter Department of Water Resources (Delta Design Construction Enterprise) Under Brown Administration Lead

Sacramento – Newly released documents gained through Public Records Actions show that water exporters and the Delta Design Construction Enterprise housed within the California Department of Water Resources have already developed plans to “acquire” family farms and right of way in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta through eminent domain.

The “Acquisition Management Plan,” obtained from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, shows that agencies have identified 300 parcels in the Delta they intend to “acquire” or gain right of way through.

The documents can be viewed here and here.

Delta farmers, who have been winning a protracted legal battle with the state agencies, are shaken by the documents.

“It is wrong and premature that the Department of Water Resources has a unit creating a secret land acquisition plan to take 150 year-old farms, like ours, through condemnation,” said Richard Elliot whose family has farmed in Courtland for more than 150 years and has never sold any of their land in the Delta. “Now it is going to be condemned for thirsty water agencies working with DWR. It does not make good policy sense to forsake prime Delta farmland with access to water and moderate weather conditions to farm in a dry desert that is filled with salt and selenium in its soils and that is not sustainable. The entire plan doesn’t make for sustainable food policies, smart land use practices, or even common sense.”

The documents also include maps of targeted farm parcels in the Delta.

“While Delta and good-government activists are busy mobilizing comments in a democratic process, we discover state agencies view public oversight as simply a distraction,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla Executive Director of Restore the Delta. “These documents arrogantly envision groundbreaking ceremonies as early as July 2016. Bulldozers and cement trucks are ready to roll! Red ribbons are budgeted! All for a $60 billion boondoggle without even one permit. Clearly, water officials under the Brown Administration view the Delta as a colony.”

Plans to End Outreach to the Delta

The released documents also reveal that DWR and the tunnel promoters will cease all outreach to the Delta as a cost saving measure while issuing multi-million dollar no-bid contracts to oversee the construction of a project that will dewater the estuary.

“The most disturbing aspect of the documents are that The Brown Administration and water exporters don’t trust Californians,” said Conner Everts with the Southern California Watershed Alliance.  “Why do they feel the need to “fool” Californians? To advance their deeply flawed multi-billion-dollar tunneling experimental export plan. Plus, Metropolitan Water District this coming Monday is once again moving forward with a continuing parcel tax to burden property tax payers.  What will these new taxes be used for–this massive tunneling experiment?”

A letter from the San Diego County Water Authority to the Metropolitan Water District discussing the tax can be found here.

“This Confidential Draft confirms my concerns about the magnitude of the assault on private property interests in the Delta and disruption to Delta life as a result of the proposed project,” said attorney Thomas H. Keeling who has represented landowners in this litigation.

“Like every other aspect of the tunnels scheme, taxpayers, landowners, and Delta communities in general will pay the heavy price for a project that will line the pockets of a few private interests south of the Delta without delivering anything of value to California,” added Keeling.


Scope of Eminent Domain Actions is Vast

The proposed acquisitions will cover the 30+ mile proposed tunnel alignment and require condemning private property interests from many Delta landowners in four counties (Sacramento, San Joaquin, Contra Costa and Alameda).

Appendix A lists more than 300 parcels of real property currently targeted by the State for acquisition, in whole or in part.  The takings will include land in fee and permanent and temporary easements.  In addition, Delta landowners will be subjected to more pre-condemnation litigation over entry permits and will be asked, in some cases, to enter into licensing arrangements.

The ‘draft’ Property Acquisition Plan is so ambitious that it will require DWR to establish regional staff offices or public information centers “to handle the number of persons, farms, and businesses that will be impacted or displaced by the project.”

Williamson Act Contracts to Be Terminated

According to the documents, the Property Acquisition component of the project will be to “Terminate Williamson Act Contracts,” a matter of considerable importance to a number of Delta landowners and which has probably not yet appeared on their radar screen of concerns.

The documents also reveal that the agency’s plan is to approach each property owner just once to acquire all the property interests and rights DWR wants from that landowner before moving forward with eminent domain actions through court order.

Delta Design Construction Enterprise — Created by Department of Water Resources

Department of Water Resources awarded an $11.4 million no-bid contract to the Hallmark Group, headed by Chuck Gardner, to direct the DCE that was signed in 2013.

The DCE is housed within the Department according to recent documents received in a separate Public Records Act request from Department of Water Resources. Claiming, but not specifying the loophole through which they awarded the contract, DWR gave this contract for the second largest public works project in the history of California to a contractor who heads a small water policy firm, rather than an engineering firm with no listed experience in managing large water construction contracts or large experimental tunneling projects specifically

The Hallmark Group, under the banner of the DCE, is now the group creating, planning and executing this secret land acquisition plan in the Delta.

Delta Farmers Winning in Court

Meanwhile, for more than six years, dozens of Delta landowners have successfully litigated against DWR on eminent domain issues.

In 2014, Delta farmers won in the State Court of Appeal. They defeated DWR’s efforts to condemn temporary and permanent easements for the purpose of conducting geotechnical studies (drilling) on Delta properties as part of its planning for the Tunnels project alignment and engineering work.

The case is now at the California Supreme Court, fully briefed.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta, (209) 479-2053
Thomas H. Keeling, attorney for Delta landowners, (209) 474-1818
Conner Everts, Southern California Watershed Alliance, (310) 804-6615