Reject Sklar and Brooks

Pub date January 23, 2008
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom’s pledge to bring new ideas into his second administration apparently doesn’t include public power. Not only has he ousted Susan Leal, the (modestly) pro–public power director of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission; he’s also reappointed to the panel two commissioners who have been Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s best friends. Ryan Brooks and Dick Sklar can only be rejected if eight members of the Board of Supervisors vote against them, and that’s what needs to happen.

For years the PUC has been a less-than-stellar panel dominated by political allies of the mayor, which is crazy: The agency is overseeing a $4 billion plan to reconstruct the city’s entire water system (which requires a certain degree of management). And it’s in the middle of a growing move to build a sustainable, environmentally sound power system for the city. The PUC is overseeing San Francisco’s move to community choice aggregation. It’s managing the installation of city-owned power plants. And it could be involved in a long list of renewable-power projects, from wave generation to solar.

That last thing the city needs is PUC commissioners who are opposed to (or weak on) moving into the energy business.

Unfortunately, Sklar (who served as ambassador to the United Nations under Bill Clinton) and Brooks (a vice president of Viacom Outdoor) have shown such reluctance to promote public power that they might as well be on PG&E’s payroll. Their reappointments, announced Jan. 15, are a sign that Newsom will not tolerate any move by his commission to get San Francisco into the retail electricity business (although a federal law — the Raker Act — requires the city to run a public power system).

It may be that public power advocates will ultimately have to go around the PUC; as long at the mayor controls that panel, it’s unlikely that anyone who wants to promote real energy alternatives will be appointed. And it’s essential that the supervisors move forward on a City Charter amendment that would give the board the right to appoint three of the five commissioners.

But in the meantime, it’s crucial to send Newsom a message: his ouster of Leal and his attempt to ensure a PG&E-safe PUC are not acceptable.

The appointments don’t require board approval — but the supervisors have the right to veto them with an eight-vote majority. Sups. Aaron Peskin, Sophie Maxwell, and Bevan Dufty have vowed to introduce a resolution to reject Sklar and Brooks, and their colleagues should join in. We don’t expect Newsom to suddenly turn around and name active public power supporters in the place of Sklar and Brooks, but if the board sends the message that PG&E allies aren’t OK, the next two appointments might be a little better.

The supervisors should reject Dick Sklar and Ryan Brooks as quickly as possible.