The mayor and the tun­nels

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

Af­ter Tues­day’s vote by the Metropoli­tan Water District of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia to par­tic­i­pate in a giant water de­liv­ery project more than 300 miles to the north, Los An­ge­les is left to won­der: Are we all in on the delta tun­nels and their $17 bil­lion price tag ($4.3 bil­lion for South­ern Cal­i­for­nia)? Are we all out? Does Mayor Eric Garcetti have a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive, and will he try to stop the tun­nels project from mov­ing for­ward?

You couldn’t tell from the votes cast by Garcetti’s five ap­pointees to the 38-mem­ber MWD board. They split 3-2, with the ma­jor­ity op­posed.

Un­til this week you couldn’t tell by lis­ten­ing to Garcetti, ei­ther, be­cause he didn’t weigh in on the mas­sive project, which would chan­nel Sacra­mento River water south through 40-mile-long twin tun­nels to by­pass the frag­ile delta. And then, mad­den­ingly, on the day of the vote — and not in Los An­ge­les, but at a press event in Sacra­mento — he re­vealed that he did not fa­vor the ver­sion that would be voted on min­utes later but might sup­port a sin­gle tun­nel. But why was one tun­nel bet­ter than two? He didn’t ex­plain.

Los An­ge­les needs stronger lead­er­ship from Garcetti on water.

That’s a re­mark­able thing to have to say, be­cause in a real sense Garcetti has made water self-suf­fi­ciency the cen­ter­piece of his ad­min­is­tra­tion. He has aligned city de­part­ments and con­vened some of the re­gion’s fore­most ex­perts to out­line ways to sat­isfy the city’s water needs in an en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble fash­ion, with projects to clean and re­use the San Fer­nando Val­ley aquifer and to step up treat­ment and re­cy­cling of waste­water. Much as his pre­de­ces­sor, An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa, forced L.A. to start kick­ing its coal-burn­ing habit for elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion, Garcetti is try­ing to re­duce L.A.’s de­pen­dence on im­ported water.

But the mayor needs to let the city know how that’s go­ing, how long it will re­al­is­ti­cally take and how much it will cost — and then ex­plain how ei­ther the twin tun­nel project or a smaller al­ter­na­tive fits into the time­line and onto the bill that will even­tu­ally be pre­sented to L.A. ratepay­ers. And it would be nice if he laid that out for the peo­ple of Los An­ge­les rather than folks in Sacra­mento. Oth­er­wise, it looks sus­pi­ciously like Garcetti is try­ing align him­self with mul­ti­ple sides to be sure he burns no po­lit­i­cal bridges in any part of a state where he might soon be run­ning for statewide of­fice.

As mayor, Vil­laraigosa rarely al­lowed his am­bi­tions for higher of­fice to mute his sup­port or op­po­si­tion to projects or pro­grams. Like him or not, you knew where he stood. We need some of that timely forthright­ness from Garcetti as the tun­nels project moves for­ward — or morphs into a smaller project of the type that Garcetti maybe does, or maybe does not, see as part of L.A.’s fu­ture.

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