No more silence on Prop. 16

Pub date February 23, 2010

EDITORIAL Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has found few allies in its effort to halt the spread of public power in California. The Sacramento Bee has come out strongly against PG&E’s initiative, Proposition 16 on the June ballot. Los Angeles Times columnists have denounced it. Six Democratic leaders in the California Senate have called for the company to withdraw the measure. Even the California Association of Realtors, hardly a radical environmental group, has come out strongly against the measure, in part because it’s so badly worded that it could halt residential and commercial development in large parts of the state.

But PG&E has already set aside $30 million to try to pass this thing — and since the cities and counties that would be hit hardest can’t use public money to defeat it, elected officials across the state need to be using every opportunity they have to speak out against it.

Prop. 16 is about the most anti-democratic measure you can imagine. It mandates that any local agency that wants to sell retail electricity to customers first get the approval of two-thirds of the local electorate. The two-thirds majority has been the cause of the debilitating budget gridlock in Sacramento, and it will almost certainly end efforts to expand public power or create community choice aggregation (CCA) co-ops in the state.

It actually states that no existing public power agency can add new customers or expand its delivery service without a two-thirds vote — which means, according to former California Energy Commissioner John Geesman, that no new residential or commercial development in the 48 California communities that have public power could be given electricity hook-ups.

It also, of course, eliminates the possibility of competition in the electricity business, making PG&E the only entity legally allowed to sell power in much of Northern California. That’s a radically anti-consumer position that most residents of the state would reject — if they understood it.

And there’s the problem. With PG&E spending $30 million (of our ratepayer money) promoting this, using misleading language and a campaign based on lies, and with very little money available for a counter-campaign, it’s going to be hard to get the message out.

That’s why every single elected official, candidate for office, and political group in the state that isn’t entirely bought off by PG&E needs to loudly oppose it, now.

And there’s still a lot of silence out there.

State Sen. Mark Leno and Assembly Member Tom Ammiano, to their credit, are not only opposing Prop. 16, they are helping lead the campaign against it. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has helped build the coalition that’s running the No on 16 effort. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has passed a resolution opposing the initiative. Sup. Bevan Dufty, who is running for mayor, is a public opponent. State Sen. Leland Yee’s office told us he opposes it (although he hasn’t made much of a big public issue of the measure). Same for City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

But where is Mayor Gavin Newsom? Where is District Attorney Kamala Harris, who is running for attorney general? Where’s Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer? Where’s the City Hall press conference with the mayor and every other elected official in town denouncing Prop. 16 and urging San Franciscans to vote against it?

The silence is a disgrace, and amounts to a tacit endorsements of PG&E’s efforts.

And it’s happening at the same time that the supervisors are pushing against a tight deadline to get the city’s Community Choice Aggregation program up and running.

San Francisco is the only city in the United States with a federal mandate to sell public power, and the city is moving rapidly to set up a CCA system. This is a monumental threat to the city — and everyone either in office or seeking office needs to recognize that and speak out. Prop. 16 and CCA ought to be a factor in every local organization’s endorsements for Democratic County Central Committee and supervisor this year, and any candidate who can’t stand up to PG&E has no business seeking office in San Francisco.