Conflicts alleged for delta council members

SACRAMENTO -- The new governing body charged with fixing the delta's many problems is off to a rocky start, with conflict-of-interest claims swirling around two of its seven members.

The Delta Stewardship Council held its first meeting Thursday in Sacramento. Created by state water laws adopted last year, the council faces a number of daunting tasks to manage the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, California's most important water supply and arguably its biggest environmental mess.

One of the new council members, Gloria Gray of Inglewood, is also a board member of the West Basin Municipal Water District, a Los Angeles County water provider that depends on the delta for a large share of its supply.

That imported delta water is distributed by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the largest single municipal buyer of delta water. Gray is also a Metropolitan board member by virtue of the fact that West Basin is a Metropolitan member agency.

Several Northern California lawmakers believe Gray has a conflict of interest between her role on the delta council and her board member duties in Southern California. In a March 26 letter, Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, told Gray she should choose whether to serve the council or her local constituents.

Huffman sought a legal opinion on Gray's situation from the legislative counsel. In a March 11 letter, the counsel ruled that holding both the delta council and West Basin board positions violates a section of the Government Code that prevents an individual from holding "incompatible" offices.

"She should resign one or the other," said state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis. "You need members whose interests don't conflict with their role to protect the delta."

Gray was appointed by then-Assembly Speaker Karen Bass on Feb. 28, Bass' final day in that job.

Contacted Friday, Gray declined to say whether she would resign one of her board seats. But she said she intends to continue serving on the delta council.

"I'm focusing on doing the work of the council," she said. "I was sworn in to do that and that's what I intend to do. I am interested in hearing all perspectives, because I think we represent all Californians on water issues."

Another conflict surrounds Richard Roos-Collins. An attorney who works for the Natural Heritage Institute, Roos-Collins is the lone council appointee who can be viewed as representing environmental interests.

But Roos-Collins also serves on the steering committee of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the Schwarzenegger administration's program to obtain approval for a new tunnel to divert Sacramento River water out of the delta. The plan won't be finalized until next year, but Roos-Collins has voted repeatedly as a committee member to draft the program in a particular way.

One of the new delta council's roles is to review the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. It does not have the power to reject the plan but may order revisions if it finds the plan inadequate to solve the delta's complicated environmental problems.

Sierra Club lobbyist Jim Metropulos said Roos-Collins is ill-suited to objectively review the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. "He's not going to have an independent view," Metropulos said.

Roos-Collins, appointed by the governor, did not return a message left on his office phone.

Phil Isenberg, a former Sacramento mayor and assemblyman, was named chairman of the Delta Stewardship Council, a full-time position, at its meeting Thursday. He was appointed by the governor to the delta council and to the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force.

Isenberg lately has served as president of a Sacramento lobbying partnership. But upon appointment to the delta council, he ended that business relationship and terminated his standing as a state-registered lobbyist.

Asked if he did so to avoid conflicts of interest, Isenberg said,: "You can characterize it any way you want. I wanted to do all that in advance just to clarify that there are no lingering issues."