Morning Report: One Company Quietly Making Huge Water Deals - Voice of San Diego

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Morning Report: One Company Quietly Making Huge Water Deals

Alfalfa on land the Metropolitan Water District bought in the Palo Verde Valley / Photo by David Malloy, courtesy the Metropolitan Water District

With very little fanfare, a small private company has become one of the largest private landowners in the Imperial Valley, a large farming community east of San Diego.

Los Angeles-based Renewable Resources Group’s history of deals suggest the company may be there for more than just the farmland. Farmers in the valley also have rights to huge amounts of the Colorado River, the West’s most important water source.

Ry Rivard explores the history of Renewable, which was co-founded by an Enron water trader and a campaign aide to Bill Clinton.

In the past several years, Renewable has helped sell 33,000 acres of land to California’s most powerful water agency, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Renewable brokered two deals with Metropolitan totaling $430 million, first on behalf of Harvard University’s investment arm and then on behalf of an American subsidiary of a Swiss insurance company.

Public records suggest Metropolitan may have overpaid by millions of dollars and, in turn, unnecessarily increased the cost of water for customers across the region, including in San Diego.

The Impact of District-Only Elections

Over the last several years, several cities across San Diego County have revamped their election processes, often as a result of a lawsuit or the threat of one.

KPBS examined the impact of those switches.

According to data compiled by Grassroots Lab, a public affairs research firm, of the 77 cities that switched to district elections in 2018, just under half saw an increase in minority council members,” KPBS reports.

That tracks with what VOSD’s Jesse Marx found when he surveyed the scene following the 2018 election.

“Six cities in North County made the switch this year to district-based elections and again, the results were mixed. But there were a couple notable victories for Latino candidates. … By and large, district-based elections have yet to live up to the big promises made by supporters,” Marx wrote.

It’s not just city governments that are being forced to re-evaluate how they conduct elections. The San Diego Unified School District is currently being sued over the way board members are elected. The group Parents for Quality Education contends the district’s process “discriminates and prevents certain races or ethnic groups from electability to the 15 SDUSD school board.”

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber has written a bill that also seeks to change the district’s election process, but is giving the City Council a shot at moving reforms along first.

City Pumps the Brakes on Plan to Revamp Part of Balboa Park

Inspiration Point in Balboa Park / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The city’s putting the brakes on its a plan to request bids from prospectors who might redevelop the area known as Inspiration Point.

After pushback from some park activists, the city and Balboa Park Committee leaders decided to host a meeting next month to get public feedback on possibilities for the space, which was once part of the Naval Hospital campus, before proceeding with the formal bidding process.

The city is looking at ways to activate and draw in cash for the park in the area that’s now home to hundreds of parking spaces, a storage depot and a dried-up fountain. A Park and Recreation Department spokesman said feedback during the meeting will help guide the city’s next steps after proposals are submitted.

The Inspiration Point workshop will be at 6 p.m. on June 6 at the Balboa Park Club.

  • Following the death of a plan to transform Balboa Park’s center, some park advocates are calling on Mayor Kevin Faulconer to follow through on his pledge to invest the $9.5 million that had been set to support the Plaza de Panama project elsewhere in the park. City Councilman Chris Ward and Balboa Park organizations said they hope the mayor, who is set to release his revised budget next week, will consider tackling the park’s aging restrooms and other needs in his updated spending plan.

Under Newsom, the Twin Tunnels Will Become an Only Child

Gov. Gavin Newsom has formally scaled back his predecessor’s plan to build a pair of tunnels to help bring water south from Northern California.

Ry Rivard looks at what that means for the Southern California water agencies that want and didn’t want the tunnels.

The basic fight has always been north vs. south. Northern California feels that Southern California is stealing water. Southern California points out that most of the water is up there but most of the people are down here.

The battle lines have gotten a bit more complicated in recent years.

Water officials representing Los Angeles and San Diego were both skeptical of the tunnels. Both regions have or are working on their own expensive water supply projects, like stormwater and wastewater recycling, and aren’t crazy about paying for another multibillion-dollar project.

City Attorney Stirs Up Mayoral Race

San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott endorsed Assemblyman Todd Gloria in the race for mayor Monday. It was one of the most high-profile endorsements to date.

The move provoked a rebuke from Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who is also running for the job. Bry alleged that Gloria and Elliott have less respect for public transparency and accountability than she does and so the move was no surprise. “The City Attorney – without consulting with the City Council – sponsored legislation in Sacramento this year that would have significantly weakened the California Public Records Act, by which the public is guaranteed access to government communications and documents,” Bry said in a press release.

She also hit Gloria for a plan to purge city emails that emerged while he was interim mayor. He pulled back the plan and has now floated a bill at the Legislature to ensure all government agencies retain their emails for at least two years. Many do not do that.

In Other News

Now That Is a Press Release

This notice sent out to local reporters by the spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of California is too good not to share:

“SAN DIEGO – Ariel Boiteux, an Argentine national who masterminded an international extortion scheme against hundreds of people seeking romance through witchcraft and magic spells, is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court today at 2 p.m. before Judge Huff.”

The U-T’s Kristina Davis broke down the case back in December. Boiteux was sentenced to two years in prison Monday.

The Morning Report was written by Sara Libby and edited by Scott Lewis.

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