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Gov. Brown accused of behind-the-scenes manipulation in vote of water tunnel project

FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2016, file photo, water flows through an irrigation canal to crops near Lemoore, Calif. The California Supreme Court is set to issue a ruling Thursday, July 21, 2016, that could add millions of dollars to the governor's $15.7 billion plan to build two giant water tunnels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2016, file photo, water flows through an irrigation canal to crops near Lemoore, Calif.

Two nonprofit groups are accusing Gov. Jerry Brown of improperly working with Metropolitan Water District board directors behind the scenes to put pressure on a key vote for a massive water tunnel project.

The groups claim board members violated open meeting laws as they pressed for a yes on a massive project to move water from tunnels under the Sacramento Bay Delta. The accusations potentially call , call into question a recent vote moving the project forward.

That vote by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California authorized spending up to $11 billion to build two tunnels.

Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the governor,  said late Monday that "it's clear these folks are grasping at straws."

Ferguson said Brown, who has long pushed for this project, urged all board members to support it in a letter sent to them the day before the vote.

The groups alleging violations, claim some of MWD's directors communicated privately among themselves about the Delta Tunnels vote before it was taken. 

California law requires public boards to deliberate in public at official meetings. It bars them from convening small groups that can add up to a majority of the vote to decide in advance how to vote.

And they also say Brown improperly acted as an intermediary when he made calls to some MWD directors on behalf of other directors.

Gov. Brown has long counted on the project to be a key part of his legacy. His office said the governor considers the project to be a critical step in modernizing the state's water system.

The two groups making the accusation are the nonprofit First Amendment Coalition and the environmental group Food and Water Watch. They wrote to MWD officials Monday.

Brett Barbre, who is named by the groups, is a board from Orange County. He said Monday there geographical component to the opposition.

"San Diego’s last ditch effort to stop the twin tunnels," he wrote in an email.

MWD officials said they would on comment on the threat litigation.

Read Brown's letter:

Page 1 of Brown Tunnel

Contributed to DocumentCloud by Megan Garvey of Southern California Public RadioView document or read text


8:30 p.m.: This story updated with clarification the accusations against Gov. Brown. It initially said that Brown was accused of open meetings law violations. That's a claim being made specifically against board members. In addition, comments from the governor's office and Barbre were added.

This article originally published at 5:50 p.m.