Stop the presses: CleanPowerSF 8, PG&E 3

Pub date September 18, 2012
SectionBruce Blog

Sometimes, the good guys (and gals) win.

And so, after the Guardian started the public power movement in 1969  with the pioneering Joe Neilands expose of the PG&E/Raker Act scandal, after three  initiative campaigns to kick PG&E put of City Hall and enforce the public power mandates of the federal Raker Act and bring our own Hetch Hetchy public power to our own people, after hundreds of people worked for years inside and outside City Hall for public power and clean energy,  the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 Tuesday  to formally launch a CleanPowerSF project that would for the first time challenge the decades-old power monopoly of the Pacific Gas & Electric Company.

It was a historic moment. And it was a historic veto proof vote that Ed Lee, the PG&E- friendly mayor, and his ally and mentor, former mayor Willie Brown, the unregistered $200,000 a year PG&E lobbyist, will have difficulty snuffing out this time around.

The CleanPowerSF 8 were Sups. David Campos, who sponsored the legislation, Scott Weiner, who cast the deciding swing vote, David Chiu, Eric Mar, Christina Olague, Jane Kim, Malia Cohen, and John Avalos, all of whom made helpful remarks during the debate. They also voted down an attempt by the PG&E bloc to continue the vote for a week and voted against crippling amendments.

The PG&E 3 were Sups.Mark Farrell and Carmen Chiu, who tried to dilute the legislation with the crippling amendments, and Sean Elsbernd, who was strangely silent during the debate. 

I use the phrase CleanPowerSF  8 and PG&E 3 to dramatize the crucial political point and toss in a bit of Guardian history on the story.  For years, as clean energy/public power proposals were routinely voted down as a result of PG&E political muscle and power lobbying, the Guardian would use variations of the phrase. PG&E l0, San Francisco l or whatever was the PG&E margin of victory. The phrase was accurate, pin-pointed the good and bad guys and gals, lifted our spirits, and sent the message that the battle was far from over.

The hero of the afternoon was Ed Harrington, the general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission who delayed his retirement to complete the project. He got a standing ovation after his testimony backing up his legislation and deft handling of  all questions.  As Campos said, Harrington’s legislation  was as “good as you are going to get.”  No one seriously questioned his plan, figures,  marketing strategy, or key argument that his plan was fiscally and environmentally sound.

PG&E was never mentioned during the discussion and it was difficult to determine its lobbying strategy. After the vote, I asked Eric Brooks, the crafty clean power leader at the meeting,  what happened to PG&E and  its strategy. He said that PG&E, after the San Bruno disaster and other notable mishaps, was not the monopoly power it once was and that perhaps the company had decided it would rather face the slower pace of  CleanPowerSF rather than another clean energy initiative it would have a good chance of losing 

Thanks and congratulations to the CleanPowerSF 8, David Campos, Scott Weiner, John Avalos, David Chiu, Eric Mar, Chritina Olague, Jane Kim, and Malia Cohen, who voted themselves into San Francisco history.  Five of them will face the electorate and PG&E in the November election (Campos, Avalos,  Chiu, Mar, and Olague.) and they acted and spoke as if voting for CleanPowerSF would be a significant advantage to their campaigns in their districts. And thanks and congratulatons to former Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who carried the public power flag as the unpaid campaign manager during the first two unsuccessful public power campaigns and then carried the CCA plan inside City Hall during his seven years as supervisor.  When he was voted in as sheriff last November, he handed the CCA baton to Campos who pushed the proposal through with style and solid argument that the issue was choice and providing necessary competition to PG&E’s monopoly.

The vote to start public power in San Francisco comes none too soon. The tear-down-tne-Hetch Hetchy dam forces have put the nice-sounding Proposition F to study draining the Hetch Hetch reservoir.on the fall ballot. This is the first step toward tearing down the dam.  The problem for the city is that it could ultimately lose the dam, if it isn’t moving to public power, because the Raker Act mandates that San Francisco have a municipal  system to distribute public power to its residents and businesses because the act allowed San Francisco to dam Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. The Guardian’s position is that the dam is in place and  should only be torn down after the city has real public power and is able to find and afford an adequate new source for the city’s water and power supply. And that, let me emphasize,  will be a massive undertaking involving billions of dollars and incredible political challenges.   .

Much more to come in this saga that never ends,  b3

Here is Guardian City Editor  Steve Jones’ account of the vote: :

And some Guardian background on the PG&E/Raker Act Scandal in my advance story: