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South County cities wary of Delta oversight
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If you live in Lathrop or southwest Manteca or farm south of Manteca in the Delta secondary zone you may one day have to get clearance from a super regional agency seeking veto power over everything from how you use your land to what you build on it.

It is the collective fear of elected leaders from throughout San Joaquin County - including the Manteca, Lathrop and Ripon city councils and the South San Joaquin Irrigation District board - that have banded together to make sure the Delta Stewardship Council doesn’t gain sweeping land use power.

Manteca Councilman Steve DeBrum who also works with Dairy Farmers of America that has offices based in Ripon, said it is a matter of opening the door if nothing else.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand what this could really do to farming here,” DeBrum said. “What they say they don’t have an issue with you doing today can change tomorrow.”

DeBrum and others draw parallels to how the California Coastal Commission authority has expanded over the years included forcing coastal cities to cancel traditional fireworks shows due to concern sit disturbed wildlife.

DeBrum said the commission could easily be in a position to do the same.

Those that have drafted the legislation contend that issues such as city’s issuing routine building permits aren’t the target and that they are aiming at large scale development. Local leaders, though, contend the wording would easily allow the commission to look at accumulative effects as well as development along the Delta tributaries such as the Stanislaus River when they decide to exercise their power in land use decisions.

It is why the Delta Stewardship Commission has become a rallying cry for much of San Joaquin County on the same level as the state’s underground version of the peripheral canal - a pair of twin tunnels that could cost at least $18 billion. The tunnels would divert clean Sacramento River water around the Delta leaving the San Joaquin River as the prime source of Delta water of clarity and flows.

The commission is a freestanding, independent state government agency locals fear have been given powers that could easily morph into those powers rivaling the California Coastal Commission and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. It has a vast array of powers in what happens not just in the primary Delta zone but the secondary zone that includes all of Lathrop, parts of southwest Manteca,  farmland west of Ripon and south of Manteca, Tracy and more than half of Stockton and easily half of the county. The commission also has jurisdiction in what happens on the tributaries such as the Stanislaus River that flow into the Delta.

There are understandings that the commission won’t block or question already approved projects such as the 10,800-home River islands at Lathrop.

The San Joaquin County coalition has hired lobbyists and are in the middle of what they expect to be a 12 to 18 month fight to get language in the governance guidelines for the Delta Stewardship Commission to prevent  it from making intrusions into planning concerns within the secondary Delta zone that are clearly local in nature. The secondary zone is where Mountain House, Tracy, Lathrop, segments of Stockton and Manteca as well as farmland west of Ripon is located.

Ripon and other cities joined together in response to a 2,200 page report on the stewardship council’s governance plans that were circulated for comments a year ago. The governance plan essentially will dictate how the commission created by the California legislature’s Delta Reform Act of 2009 will go about reaching its objectives.

Commission spokespeople have repeatedly indicated that local leaders are misinterpreting language. Elected local leaders though don’t want to leave anything to chance and are wary of the track record of large cities and large-scale farming interests as well as the state when it comes to water issues.