Clean Energy

Big soda explodes on SF, gives $7.7 million to fight beverage tax


If the soda tax proponents brought a supersoaker to the November ballot showdown, the soda industry brought a tsunami. New campaign finance reports filed today [Mon/6] show the soda industry gave $7.7 million dollars to shoot down the sugary beverage tax in San Francisco, and no, this does not count money spent in Berkeley against our sister city’s beverage tax. 

That number is completely off the charts. In San Francisco local politics, journalists have written screeds against local tech angel investor Ron Conway for throwing $50,000 at an Assembly race, for a point of reference. It may not be record setting though. In 2008, PG&E spent nearly $10 million to take down a clean energy initiative, Proposition H. Still, $7.7 million is simply an absurd amount of money in terms of San Francisco politics, and rarely seen.

And the American Beverage Association still has the entire month of October to outspend PG&E.

“It makes your eyeballs pop,” said Sup. Scott Wiener, a co-author of San Francisco’s sugary beverage tax, along with Sup. Eric Mar. “The rule of thumb is, if you can raise $1 million in San Francisco, you’re in good shape. I don’t even know what you’d do with $7 million.”

The money spent also bests the record set in nearby Richmond. The failed beverage tax was defeated handily with $2.6 million spent against it. It’s that frightening amount that spurred Wiener and Mar to start a grassroots campaign for the sugary beverage tax a year early. The San Francisco measure, on this November’s ballot, would levy a 2-cents-per ounce tax on sugary drinks sold in containers. The money would go directly into health and wellness programs in schools and city recreation centers. 

But the sugary beverage tax proponents have only raised about $225,000 so far, which is nowhere near the ballpark of the $7.7 million mark. San Francisco is awash in carbonated dollars.

Even more staggering is who the money is from. Most campaign finance forms show a long list of donors. Maybe a few firefighters kick in $500 here, maybe a retiree kicks in $100 there. This form has one, single campaign donor: the American Beverage Association, which is primarily funded by Pepsi Co. and Coca Cola. 

What does all that money buy? Well, for starters, a whole lot of political ads. The expenditures listed against Proposition E, the soda tax, list over $3,750,000 spent with GCW Media Services, who make slick campaign ads like the one below.

It also goes toward paying those oh-so-pleasant mailed ads, you know, the ones trying to link the soda tax with the rising cost of living, and evictions? The US Postal Service alone netted $3,500 to send those off.

The Young Democrats, who endorsed No on the Sugary Beverage Tax, got a whopping $20,000 for their troubles. And notably, Chile Lindo, whose owner repeatedly came out to testify against the sugary beverage tax, was paid $812. 

And let us not forget our friends at BMWL and Partners, paid over $161,000 by the American Beverage Association so far. No wonder Chuck Finnie, a flack at BMWL, got so testy with us when we questioned claims by the ABA.

“I was a journalist for 20 years, and this is bullshit,” the ex-San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporter told us. “The gloves are off.”

They certainly are. Big soda isn’t sparing a solitary dime when it comes to flooding our TV stations, our radio airwaves, our streets, and our billboards with a straightforward message: to vote against the sugary beverage tax. 

But the real message behind that effort is much easier to see, now that we know how much money they’ve spent.

They’re scared. 

Sugary beverages contribute much to obesity and diabetes rates in San Francisco and beyond, studies have shown, and the showdown with the soda industry in San Francisco and Berkeley could ripple across the country. Big soda’s big lobbyists are running astroturf campaigns we’ve exposed in previous coverage, and this $7.7 million show just how seriously the big soda companies consider these new taxes a threat to their livelihoods.

The only question is, will their big money succeed in hoodwinking San Francisco?

We’ve embedded the campaign filing below, which you can read for yourself or download.

Clean energy and better infrastructure: a great combination


OPINION Achieving a more sustainable San Francisco means a city running on clean power. It also means maintaining our infrastructure to keep San Francisco functioning.

Right now, our city can do better on both fronts, and legislation we are sponsoring will help move us in the right direction by increasing our use of clean, hydroelectric power while generating more revenue for infrastructure investment in our streetlight and power systems.

San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy power system produces a massive amount of clean, hydroelectric power, yet our city uses very little of this energy despite our stated goal of moving toward 100 percent clean power by 2030. Moreover, the operator of this power system, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC), has massive unmet infrastructure needs. Our streetlights, most of which are owned by the PUC, are badly in need of upgrade, and PUC’s power delivery system has almost a billion dollars in deferred maintenance.

To address these challenges, we are authoring legislation to bring more revenue-generating, clean power to San Francisco.

For over 100 years, the PUC has provided 100 percent clean, hydroelectric power to municipal agencies, including Muni, the San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco General Hospital, police and fire stations, libraries, and our public schools. Using this clean public power saves taxpayers millions versus what we would pay if we were to purchase PG&E power. Hetch Hetchy generates 1.43 million megawatt hours of clean power a year and is 100 percent greenhouse-gas free. This is a tremendous asset, but it has been underutilized.

Any excess public power that the PUC generates and doesn’t use for governmental customers is now sold on the wholesale market at a significantly reduced rate. Retail rates are around four times higher than wholesale rates. This means that with every megawatt sold at wholesale rates, the PUC is losing out on significant revenue to address its aging infrastructure needs.

If the PUC obtains more customers paying retail rates, we can generate more revenue to upgrade and improve our failing streetlight system and address the power system’s massive deferred capital needs. The PUC estimates that for every 10 megawatts sold to new retail customers — rather than selling that power on the wholesale market — we will see a net revenue increase of $4 million per year.

That is why we are sponsoring legislation to bring the PUC more retail customers and hence more infrastructure investment. The legislation provides the PUC with the right of first refusal to be the power provider for new development projects in San Francisco, including large private projects. This will allow the PUC to determine if it feasibly can serve as the power provider for these new developments, and in doing so expand the agency’s retail customer base.

Allowing the PUC the flexibility to add retail customers will move us toward a more financially sustainable public power system, while providing 100 percent greenhouse-gas free power to our city and generating significant resources for infrastructure investment, including for our streetlight system.

Some have raised questions about what this legislation means for the future of CleanPowerSF, our previously approved clean energy program that has been stalled by the PUC Commission’s refusal to set rates. These two public power measures are not in any way mutually exclusive, and both can move forward. We are both supporters of CleanPowerSF, and we want it to succeed.

We know the PUC can provide reliable, greenhouse-gas-free power that works for its customers. Anyone who disagrees can just look at San Francisco International Airport. If the PUC can reliably provide power to serve one of the most significant airports in the world, powering new housing and commercial developments won’t be a problem.

A sustainable, clean energy future requires a broad range of solutions. This proposal is one that will deliver our city more clean power and make our power enterprise stronger by redirecting energy revenues back into the system. Let’s put our clean power to work for San Francisco.

Scott Wiener and London Breed are members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

SF and UC systems dragging their feet on fossil fuel divestment


The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System and University of California Board of Regents — two local entities targeted by campaigns urging them to divest of their fossil fuel investments — remain resistant to the change despite official statements of support.

In April of last year, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to push SFERS to divest from fossil fuels. Now, more than a year later, sponsoring Sup. John Avalos questioned Mayor Ed Lee during the July 15 Board of Supervisors meeting about what needs to happen to move toward divestment. Groups such as Fossil Free SF and 350 SF are asking the same question since the issue of climate change is nearing a critical threshold.

Kimberly Pikul and Jed Holtzman of 350 SF told the Guardian that now is the time for action. “There is only so much carbon that we can release before we cook the planet beyond a level to which we can adapt,” Holtzman told the Guardian.

Pikul and Holtzman explained that carbon reserves owned by publicly traded fossil fuel companies represent five times what would be required to “cook the planet.” Only 20 percent of owned reserves can actually be used without massive environmental consequences, so they say stock in a fossil fuel companies is overvalued, making it a risky investment.

“To protect the long-term financial health of the pension fund and the benefits of city workers and retirees, it is a certainty that SFERS needs to divest from its fossil fuel holdings,” said Holtzman.

Despite the unstable investments and risk of environmental change, Mayor Lee seemed more concerned with jobs and green projects when Avalos questioned him about the Retirement Board’s progress at the Board of Supervisors meeting.

Lee told Avalos: “Our commitment of $4.5 million a year to GoSolarSF will continue to create local green collar jobs and … contribute [to] the creation of locally produced 100 percent green energy. These are the kinds of meaningful investments that actually deploy dollars, create jobs, and move the needle on green energy.”

Despite SF’s support of green jobs, Avalos, Fossil Free UC and 350 SF see divestment as one of the pathways toward long-term environmental change and more sustainable energy projects.

But, as Avalos pointed out, the Retirement Board has “yet to take any steps to divest from fossil fuels or limit the retirement fund’s exposure to the financial risks posed by climate change.”

The only step taken so far is to initiate “Level 1” shareholder engagement with fossil fuel companies. Pikul and Holtzman explained that Level 1 engagement “is largely cosmetic and only calls for SFERS to vote their proxies on climate-related shareholder votes.” The next step is Level 2: shareholder advocacy and engagement with fossil fuel companies. The ideal is Level 3, or investment restriction/divestment.

SF isn’t the only city to seek divestment. Oakland and Berkeley are also pursuing the cause, as are Portland and Seattle. The University of California has also been deliberating the issue and plans to vote on divestment in September.  

But the UC Board of Regents seems skeptical, despite the push from students. UC President Janet Napolitano told the Daily Bruin, “Using divestment as a tool is something that should be done rarely, if at all.”

An open letter from faculty to the UC Regents, posted on Fossil Free UC’s website, bases the argument for divestment on students’ well-being: “Current students will be at the peak of life in 2050, identified by numerous studies as a point at which the global community will have either adequately responded to climate change, or will be suffering horribly from it.”

When Harvard rejected divestment in 2013, University President Drew Faust told the San Francisco Chronicle that she found “a troubling inconsistency in the notion that, as an investor, we should boycott a whole class of companies at the same time that, as individuals and as a community, we are extensively relying on those companies’ products and services for so much of what we do every day.”

Stanford University had a similar dependence issue, which is why it compromised by divesting from coal companies, instead of all fossil fuel companies. Before divestment, the university received $19 billion from coal-related investments, money that will now be invested in other things.

While the partial divestment is a step in the right direction, Fossil Free UC student organizer Silver Hannon said, in a press release following July 16 Regents meeting, “While partial divestment could stigmatize the dirtiest energy source, we need to see the Regents take a real leadership position on the issue by adopting a comprehensive fossil-free investment strategy.”

As for SF, Mayor Lee promises that divestment will happen after the Retirement Board has considered the consequences. Since there doesn’t seem to be a study currently underway, the best course of action is to keep Lee and other officials accountable for SF’s climate and clean energy goals, said Pukil and Holtzman.

Lee seems confident that SFERs will divest, even if the timeline is currently unclear.

“I know the commission does seriously consider the fiscal consequences of divestment, and sometimes they decide the benefits outweigh the costs,” Lee told the supervisors. “I trust the Retirement Board and staff to make the right decisions in this regard.”

Will proposal to sell Hetch Hetchy power overshadow CleanPowerSF?

Supervisors Scott Wiener and London Breed have proposed an ordinance to allow the San Francisco Public Utilities Power Commission’s Power Enterprise to sell hydroelectric energy from the Hetch Hetchy dam to retail customers — particularly large real estate developments. Sup. Wiener and Breed say the ordinance would both generate revenue for the PUC and further the city’s overall goal of achieving a 100 percent greenhouse-gas free power mix. 

But how well does it fit into the city’s other clean energy goals? Some advocates of an existing citywide green energy plan worry that this new effort could cause a far more ambitious program to fall by the wayside.

For more than a decade, city government has been working toward implementing a clean energy plan through CleanPower SF, which aims to meet the city’s goal of 100 percent clean energy by allowing all San Francisco residents the choice of switching to a green power mix through the city-administered program, instead of remaining with PG&E. But CleanPower SF hangs in limbo, largely due to opposition from the SFPUC board, appointed by Mayor Ed Lee–whose regular meetings with PG&E officials have raised eyebrows.

The legislation proposing to broaden the sale of SFPUC’s hydroelectric power supply seeks to tackle some of the problems CleanPower SF might have addressed had it not been stalled. A press statement from Wiener noted that it aims to help build a large enough customer base for the SFPUC to generate sufficient revenues to maintain city infrastructure, as well as meeting the city’s overall target of 100 percent clean energy by 2030.

“My concern is that the Mayor’s office will say it’s something that will supplement CPSF [CleanPowerSF] and say that’s enough,” said Jason Fried, Executive Officer of the Local Agency Formation Commission. “I want to make it clear that it [proposed ordinance] is really meant to compliment CleanPower SF.”

But just exactly how—and how much—the proposal would complement CleanPower SF is still up for debate. Fried said Wiener’s new proposal complements CleanPower SF because it ultimately gives people more choices. “I don’t know how you can argue with giving people more choices,” he said.

But the legislation is targeted at large, private developments, rather than renewable energy options for community members. Which is why Fried emphasized that proposed ordinance shouldn’t been seen as a replacement to the city’s existing Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program, CleanPower SF.

Eric Brooks, a long-time advocate of CleanPower SF, insists the legislation would complement CleanPowerSF only if, “CleanPowerSF was given first right to purchase Hetch Hetchy power from the PUC.” This would allow the ordinance to focus on community members rather than just large, private developments, he said.

“Being able to balance different types of power like solar, wind and hydro, and being able to furnish consistent hydro power during high usage together would also help keep rates lower so that the CleanPowerSF can deliver power at lower prices,” he added.

Officials from the Sierra Club echoed Brooks, saying that the Sierra Club “supports the legislation in concept,” but requests that the legislation incorporate the ability for CleanPower SF to purchase Hetch Hetchy power from the PUC Power Enterprise.  “You have to look at it as peeling customers away from PG&E,” said John Rizzo, Sierra Club’s political chair. “The more you do that, the greener we can become.”

Although Brooks said he plans to meet with Sup. Wiener regarding how the ordinance could work in tandem with CleanPower SF, officials from Sup. Wiener’s office indicated that the ordinance is inherently separate from CleanPower SF. “[The ordinance] doesn’t further or hinder CPSF [Clean Power SF],” said Andres Power, Wiener’s legislative aide, who was involved in drafting the legislation. “It’s neutral from that perspective.”

Responding to questions about the legislation’s relationship with Clean Power SF (and whether or not collaboration might be a good strategy), Jeff Cretan, another of Sup. Wiener’s legislative aides, said, “Innovative solutions can come from multiple directions.” He further explained that, if passed, the legislation “could prove how other clean power initiatives can be successful.”

Supes won’t let mayor raid CleanPowerSF without a fight


The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee today voted to reject the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission budget, an effort by Sup. John Avalos and others to force Mayor Ed Lee to the bargaining table over the city’s neglected sustainable energy infrastructure needs.

“I wanted to get the mayor’s attention and to find a practical way to let the mayor know the Power Enterprise infrastructure needs help, as well as CleanPowerSF,” Avalos told the Guardian. CleanPowerSF would provide electricity derived from renewable sources to enrollees in the municipal program.

After CleanPowerSF was approved by a veto-proof majority on the Board of Supervisors last year, Lee’s appointees to the SFPUC blocked implementation of the program during what should have been a routine vote to set a maximum rate. Then Lee this year raided those funds and transferred them to his GoSolar program.

“Because he raided our funds, I worked with [fellow Budget Committee members Sups.] Eric Mar and London Breed to kill his budget,” Avalos told us, noting that he alerted Lee on Sunday of his intention to do so and never got a response. “It was remarkable that he thought he could just bring this to committee and thought everything was hunky-dory.”

Christine Falvey, the mayor’s spokesperson, said the mayor hadn’t had time yet to develop his next step but “the mayor is committed to funding GoSolar, a program that can start immediately, help us reach our agressive environmental goals and employ San Francisco residents.”

The tendrils of the mayor’s power could be felt even in the SFPUC’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee meeting last night. The committee makes recommendations to the PUC with no authority for mandate, but rather for long-term strategic, financial and capital improvement plans.

As the committee considered a vote to recommend the PUC move forward with CleanPowerSF, the tussle between the mayor and the supervisors reverberated through their frank discussions.

The problem is the mayor is violently against this program,” said Walt Farrell, a committee member from Supervisor Norman Yee’s District 7. He added, “How will you convince them?”

Director of Policy and Administration at Power Enterprise Kim Malcolm was slated to be the Director of CleanPowerSF, but she deflected, saying it wasn’t up to her.

We view our job as, we do what the policy makers tell us to do,” she said.

Jason Fried, executive director of the Local Agency Formation Commission, told the CAC most of the mayor’s concerns regarding CleanPowerSF have since been addressed. 

The mayor critiqued the program for relying on Shell for energy, Fried said, but now Shell is out of the picture.


Kim Malcolm presents information on CleanPowerSF to the SFPUC Citizens’ Advisory Committee.

He said the program could also possibly provide extra money for Power Enterprise, the city’s Hetch Hetchy powered hydroelectric system. 

Highlighting all the benefits of CleanPowerSF, Jess Derbin-Ackerman, a conservation organizer speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club, urged action.

This program was in the works for ten years,” she said, and “it’s largely been fought because of political attachments to PG&E.”

She noted more than four other counties in Northern California are now shifting to clean power, and San Francisco lags behind.

“Get with it,” she said, “the rest of the Bay Area is.” 

Ultimately the CAC opted to push the vote backing CleanPowerSF until its next meeting, due to absent members. The CAC’s chair, Wendolyn Aragon, supported the supervisors stalling the PUC budget.

“CleanPowerSF has been proven time and time again as a viable source of clean energy,” she told the Guardian. “But if Mayor Lee and the SFPUC Commissioners (whom he appoints) want to keep denying that … it’s time to draw a line in the sand.”

Now that the PUC’s budget has been formally rejected, the agency has $20 million in reserves that it can spend until it comes up with a budget that meets the approval of the Board of Supervisors, as the City Charter requires. In the meantime, Avalos called on Lee to negotiate in good faith with the board.

“The path forward is to negotiate,” Avalos told us. “The mayor has overstepped his bounds on this issue. He is not taking the leadership to convene us together to find a solution.”

Stored power



For this second installment of our environmental news column, we’re looking at climate change from wildly different perspectives. We’ll explore whether local green-tech manufacturing firms can help wean California off fossil fuels, highlight some key data from the National Climate Assessment, and hear from an Amazonian shaman who’s fed up with white people making a mess of the planet and his home territory.



A new green technology sector in the Bay Area could help find the missing puzzle piece needed to establish a sustainable clean-energy mix for the state’s future.

Californians continue to rely on a majority of electricity sources that are environmentally unfriendly: natural gas, nuclear power, and even coal. Generating electricity by burning fossil fuels contributes to air pollution, consumes vast quantities of freshwater, and releases greenhouse-gas emissions, exacerbating global climate change.

But this is all starting to change. Since California requires utilities to convert one-third of their energy mix to renewable sources by 2020, there’s incentive for investment in carbon-free alternatives, such as wind and solar. Meanwhile, procurement decisions at the California Public Utilities Commission have pushed utilities to purchase more renewable power.

“Solar is succeeding beyond people’s expectations around the world,” because pricing has come down, said Julie Blunden, a consultant and energy-sector expert who formerly served as vice president at SunPower. “California set itself up to say, ‘we’re for changes to our power sector.'”

But renewables have an inherent problem — the power they produce can’t always be tapped just when it’s needed. Without some way to store the electricity generated by a wind or solar array, to be kept on hand for when demand hits a peak, wind and solar are unreliable for primary energy generation because they’re subject to fluctuations in wind and natural light. This is where energy storage comes in.

Throughout the Bay Area, companies specializing in battery manufacturing are starting to gain traction, with 11 regional battery manufacturers enrolling in CalCharge, an accelerator program for energy storage created with help from the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Clean Energy Fund.

CalCharge gives regional energy-storage companies access to national laboratories such as Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, facilities described by DOE renewables expert David Danielson as “science and engineering powerhouses at the forefront of clean energy innovation.”

One of the first grid-scale energy storage firms to join CalCharge is EnerVault, a flow battery manufacturer that’s working on a major installation in Turlock that will be co-located with a tracking solar system and an electric irrigation pump.

“The little dark secret about solar is that it’s intermittent,” explained Tom Steipen, CEO of Primus Power, a flow battery manufacturing firm based in Hayward that recently joined CalCharge.

On cloudy days, solar arrays won’t produce as much power. Wind presents similar challenges: “Wind in North America is stronger at night — but we don’t need it at night, we need it in the afternoon. So anything you can do to de-couple the instantaneous supply from demand is good for the environment, good for the economy, and that’s what energy storage does. … I like to describe it as a warehouse of electrons.”

Primus makes energy pods — an array of batteries that stand about six feet tall, placed in two rows within a shipping container — fed by renewable power arrays and tied in with the grid.

The pods can be stacked in Lego-like fashion, enabling more energy storage. They are then positioned beside a second shipping container, outfitted with equipment to convert stored DC power to AC power that can be sent over transmission lines.

Primus Power plans to make one of its first energy pod shipments to Miramar, the site of a marine base near San Diego where the movie Top Gun was filmed. The base is powered with its own contained micro-grid, but it was impacted by brownouts a couple years ago. With this project, Primus faces a test for its energy pods, which are estimated to last up to 20 years: Can the flow batteries, in combination with solar, produce reliable electricity for three full days?

If the pods can supply a smooth power supply, Primus wins — but more importantly, it will be a vote of confidence for carbon-free energy sources as significant sources of electricity generation.



Davi Kopenawa is sometimes called the “Dalai Lama of the Rainforest.” He’s a shaman, activist, and spokesperson for his Yanomami tribe, the largest relatively isolated tribe in South America, which lives according to traditional indigenous ways in territory located within the Brazilian Amazon.

After years of battling the Brazilian government, Kopenawa and his people won a successful campaign for demarcation of the Yanomami territory in 1992. He co-wrote a book, The Falling Sky, with French anthropologist Bruce Albert, recently published by the Harvard University Press.

Today, the Yanomami are facing new pressures. Mining speculators are encroaching into their indigenous territory, causing fears of displacement, environmental destruction, and disease. In the past, exposure to disease brought dire consequences, resulting in widespread fatalities.

Kopenawa recently made a rare visit to San Francisco, giving talks at the Presidio Trust, UC Berkeley, and City Lights Books — and we got the chance to interview him while he was here.

Speaking via translation provided by Fiona Watson, research director of the human rights organization Survival International, Kopenawa talked about the Yanomami’s looming worries of environmental destruction and displacement that could be ushered in by mining companies.

“People are returning, invading it again, and repeating exactly what happened 20 years ago,” he told us. “These people are mainly gold miners who are looking for the riches of the Earth … They’re looking for oil, diamonds, and other precious materials, which is what white people want.”

He travels in part to seek support from the international community. “The majority of Yanomami have never left their land — they haven’t come out like I have,” he said. “So they don’t really see at close quarters how we are fighting against the politicians. However, the Yanomami and I, we continue to fight.”

Kopenawa had a lot to say about climate change and what has been done so far to address it: “All of you, the governments, the white people, need to listen to us, if you want to control the rich people who are always there … seeking raw materials from the earth, cutting down the forests, destroying the rivers.”

Indigenous leaders have spoken out internationally on the issue of climate change, he added, but the message has fallen on deaf ears. “They had the big UN climate meeting in Copenhagen,” he said. “But that didn’t result in anything. They only wasted money. They made us think that the city people would resolve things, but they couldn’t. The problem is the governments don’t listen. … The problem really is about capitalism, that’s at the root of the problem.”

Kopenawa’s perspective as a shaman in an indigenous culture is radically different from the world of government and politics, and he shakes his head at what he sees as utter complacency when it comes to implementing meaningful change.

“They’re only interested in the Internet, in paper, building more roads, stripping out the riches of the earth, destroying the trees,” he said. “We are different. We see the dangers, and we see that they are getting nearer. The cities are growing, the population is growing, and so the pollution is growing. There’s a lot of money in the world…But money won’t save the world.”

He advocates a new way of thinking about human progress.

“People have to stop thinking about ‘progress,’ which is pulling out the riches of the earth, and negotiating and doing business and having money all the time,” he said. “This is the error of the city people. I’ve tried to tell the city people, you need to minimize this problem of the climate, or else it will stop raining. And it will keep getting hotter.”



The Obama Administration unveiled the third National Climate Assessment on May 6, a hefty document detailing climate change impacts facing every region of the U.S.

Unsurprisingly, California’s own climate-related woes stem from water scarcity. Here are some details:

More money needed for drinking water. “Climate change will increase the cost of maintaining and improving drinking water infrastructure [estimated at $4.6 billion annually as things stand], because expanded wastewater treatment and desalinating water for drinking are among the key strategies for supplementing water supplies.”

Market impacts on delicious agricultural products. “California produces about 95 percent of U.S. apricots, almonds, artichokes, figs, kiwis, raisins, olives, cling peaches, dried plums, persimmons, pistachios, olives, and walnuts, in addition to other high-value crops. Drought and extreme weather affect the market value of fruits and vegetables more than other crops because they have high water content.”

More wildfires. “Numerous fire models project more wildfire as climate change continues. Models project … up to a 74 percent increase in burned area in California, with northern California potentially experiencing a doubling under a high emissions scenario toward the end of the century.”

Based on Earth is a monthly column by Guardian News Editor Rebecca Bowe.

Tune in to Alternative Ink, the Guardian’s radio show LISTEN NOW


Greetings, Guardianistas, we’re making the leap from your eyeballs to your earholes with Alternative Ink, our new radio show on, San Francisco’s best Internet radio station. Tune in this Sunday, May 11, from 6-8pm for a blend of music, talk, and random musings that is uniquely Guardian. [UPDATE: You can listen to last night’s show by clicking here.”]

Actually, our first show was two weeks ago, but we decided to call it a soft launch while we found our voice and learned how all knobs and buttons work. But we quickly found our groove and now we’re ready to get into some trouble with a larger audience.

This week’s crew includes Editor-in-Chief Steven T. Jones, Music Editor Emma Silvers, News Editor Rebecca Bowe, Reporter Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, and a special guest appearance by Street Fight columnist Jason Henderson. Art Director Brooke Ginnard says she’s sitting this one out after producing our first show, but you never know.  

We’ll be talking about bikes, buses, and the implications of how people get around; our new BayLeaks encrypted tip system and the city scandals it’s exposing; and controversial threats it faces; promising new clean energy technologies and related issues from the upcoming Based on Earth column; and the local music scene, from a solo street trumpteer to the hottest up-and-coming local bands. And if we get drunk enough, we might even dish on the evolving situation with our corporate overlords, who knows?

You can hear Alternative Ink every other week as we tag-team this time slot with our colleagues down the hall at SF Weekly, but trust us, ours is the one you wanna hear. So tune in Sunday. 

Alerts: May 7 – 13, 2014




12th Annual Human Rights Awards

Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon, SF. 6-8:30pm, $115. Each year, the Human Rights Awards honors the inspiring individuals and organizations who create radical change and real democracy. This year, we are honoring the 50 year anniversary of the Freedom Schools, anti-GMO activist María Estela Barco Huerta, and the Cuban Five, Cuban intelligence agents arrested in the United States while infiltrating anti-Castro organizations openly plotting attacks against the Cuban people. The evening will feature dining, dancing, and a presentation of the awards.



Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education

Modern Times Bookstore, 2919 24th St., SF. 7-9pm, free. For some Latinas, college, where they are vastly underrepresented, is the first time they are immersed in American culture outside their homes—and where the values of two cultures often clash. Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education is an anthology exploring this experience. This event will feature four Bay Area based contributors to anthology — Blanca Torres, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Erika Martinez and Yalitza Ferreras. Join us to hear more about the anthology and a discussion.




Dirty Energy, Clean Solutions: Climate Conference 2014

Unitarian Universalist Church, 1187 Franklin, SF. 7-9:30pm, $30 or $23 for students. Friday night will be the kick-off event for a three day interactive conference that will feature activists and leading scientists addressing technical and political climate topics in the Bay Area and beyond. Topics to be addressed include fracking, fossil fuels, and clean energy solutions, plus workshops and training sessions on how to live green. Expert scientists and activists will present cutting-edge information that will significantly raise our effectiveness as climate activists.




Public Update and Open House on Ocean Beach Projects

County Fair Building, 1199 9th Ave., SF. 9am-12pm, free. The Ocean Beach Master Plan, a vision for San Francisco’s western coast, recommends ways to improve coastal access, restore ecological function and protect critical infrastructure in the face of chronic erosion and sea level rise. Three projects — addressing coastal management, transportation, and open space — are currently underway to carry those recommendations forward. The project teams will be on hand to discuss their work and get your ideas and feedback.


Examining Racial Equity in SF Education

California Historical Society, 678 Mission, SF. 5-8pm, free. Join the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the University of San Francisco School of Education and Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth for a conversation honoring the 60th Anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education court decision. The event will focus on the continuing legacy of Brown v. Board of Education and the successes and continued challenges of achieving racial equity in the San Francisco schools. The evening will include historical context, student reflections, and an interactive panel discussion.

Lawsuits target Airbnb rentals



The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office last week filed a pair of lawsuits against local landlords who illegally rent out apartments on a short-term basis, units that had been cleared of tenants using the Ellis Act. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Tenants Unions has hired attorney Joseph Tobener to file more such lawsuits, and he is preparing to file at least seven lawsuits involving 20 units.

The lawsuits are the latest actions in a fast-moving crackdown on Airbnb and other online companies that facilitate short-term apartment rentals that violate city laws against converting apartments into de facto hotel rooms, including and

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu recently introduced legalization that would legalize, limit, and regulate such rentals, a measure that will be considered this summer. That legislation comes on the heels of Airbnb’s decision to stop stonewalling the city (and us at the Guardian, which has been raising these issues for the last two years) by agreeing to start paying the transient occupancy taxes it owes to the city for its transactions and creating new terms of service that acknowledge its business model may violate local laws in San Francisco and elsewhere (see “Into thin air,” 6/6/13).

As we’ve reported, City Attorney Dennis Herrera has been working with tenant groups and others on a legal action aimed at curtailing the growing practice of landlords using online rental services to skirt rent control laws and other tenant protection, removing units from the permanent housing market while still renting them out at a profit.

“In the midst of a housing crisis of historic proportions, illegal short-term rental conversions of our scarce residential housing stock risks becoming a major contributing factor,” Herrera said in a public statement. “The cases I’ve filed today target two egregious offenders. These defendants didn’t just flout state and local law to conduct their illegal businesses, they evicted disabled tenants in order to do so. Today’s cases are the first among several housing-related matters under investigation by my office, and we intend to crack down hard on unlawful conduct that’s exacerbating—and in many cases profiting from—San Francisco’s alarming lack of affordable housing.”

Tobener tells the Guardian that the San Francisco Tenants Union hired him to discourage local landlords from removing units from the market. “The San Francisco Tenants Union is just fed up with the loss of affordable housing,” Tobener told us. “It’s not about the money, it’s about getting these units back on the market.” (Steven T. Jones)



Just in time for Earth Day, a renewed effort to reduce the city’s carbon emissions was introduced at the April 22 Board of Supervisors yesterday. Sup. John Avalos introduced a resolution calling for a study of San Francisco joining Marin Clean Energy, which provides renewable energy to that county’s residents.

The move is seen largely as an effort to circumvent Mayor Ed Lee’s opposition to implementing a controversial renewable energy plan called CleanPowerSF (see “Revisionist future,” April 15).

“Mayor Lee and the Public Utilities Commission objected to CleanPowerSF, but they have offered no other solution to provide San Franciscans with 100 percent renewable electricity,” Avalos said in a public statement. “With this ordinance, we can either join Marin or we can implement our own program, but we can no longer afford to do nothing.”

The resolution is the latest effort in the long saga to implement CleanPowerSF, San Francisco’s proposed renewable energy alternative to PG&E, whose current energy mix is only 19 percent renewable. Much of PG&E’s current mix is dirty and directly contributes to half of San Francisco’s carbon footprint, according to the city’s own recent Climate Action Strategy.

Joining Marin under a Joint Powers Authority would provide a vehicle for San Francisco to enact CleanPowerSF’s goals, long blocked by the mayor. San Francisco’s renewable energy effort may have lingered in legal limbo for years, but Marin made the switch to renewables in 2010.

“It’s something people want, and it also reduces greenhouse gas emissions,” Marin Clean Energy Executive Officer Dawn Weisz told the Guardian. Much of Northern California, she noted, has little choice but to use PG&E for their electricity.

“The people never chose to have a monopoly in place,” she said. “People like having choices.” (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)


The National Parks Service is once again moving to limit and maybe even ban fires on Ocean Beach, replaying an episode from 2007 that was temporarily solved by volunteers and artistic new fire rings placed by the group Burners Without Borders, despite a lack of follow-through by NPS’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Citing complaints about burning toxic materials, leaving messes, and people drinking on the beach (gasp!), the GGNRA this week announced a summer pilot program that would include moving the curfew up from 10pm to 9pm, installing a dozen new fire rings, and improved public outreach and monitoring of the conditions on the beach.

“We [have] over the years seen a rising problem over safety and general breaking of park rules like broken bottles. And with incidents of assault and underage drinking, mostly occurring during the night, GGNRA Area Director Howard Levitt told the Guardian.

But Tom Price, who helped create the 2007 compromise, said GGNRA never kept its end of the bargain — such as installing more rings to supplement the half-dozen created by artists, or creating visible signage so visitors would know what the rules area — and now it’s acting in a rapid, unilateral, and unreasonable way to ban beach fires.

“They never did the outreach or education or put out more fire rings,” Price said, urging people to let GGNRA know they support allowing fires on Ocean Beach, one of just two spots within GGNRA jurisdiction where they’re allowed (Muir Beach is the other). “The Parks Service has to be reasonable, and banning fires after 9pm in not reasonable.” (Steven T. Jones and Bryan Augustus)


French economist Thomas Piketty got a warm welcome in San Francisco last week when nearly 200 people turned out to hear him discuss what is fast-becoming the defining book of this new Gilded Era of escalating disparities in wealth: Capital in the 21st Century.

“The book has been so popular that Harvard University Press has run out,” The Green Arcade owner Patrick Marks said in introducing Piketty at a the April 22 event held across Market Street from the bookstore, in the McRoskey Mattress Company, in order to accommodate the large crowd.

Indeed, Capital has recently been lauded by a string of influential publications, ranging from The Nation through The New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, all acknowledging this as perhaps the most exhaustive study on wealth data ever collected — and a clear-eyed warning that capitalism isn’t the self-correcting system that its biggest boosters claim it is.

Piketty’s work shows how when the return on capital is greater than the annual growth rate of the overall economy, which is usually the case (except when interrupted temporarily by the major wars of the 20th Century, or the 90 percent tax rate on the highest US incomes after World War II), that dynamic consolidates wealth in ever-fewer hands, which is bad for the health of the economic system. The only real cure, Piketty concludes, is a progressive global tax on wealth. Yet Piketty tries to avoid being too prescriptive, choosing to let his research speak for itself. “All I’m trying to do is present this book so everyone can make up his own mind,” Piketty told the gathering. In fact, he thinks the cure he outlines at the end of his book is less important than what comes before it: “You can disagree with everything in Part IV and still find interest in Parts I, II, and III.” (Steven T. Jones)

SF may go through Marin County to bypass CleanPowerSF subversion


Just in time for Earth Day, a renewed effort to reduce the city’s carbon emissions was introduced at the Board of Supervisors yesterday [Tues/22]. Sup. John Avalos introduced a resolution calling for a study of San Francisco joining Marin Clean Energy, which provides renewable energy to that county’s residents.

The move is seen largely as an effort to circumvent Mayor Ed Lee’s opposition to implementing a controversial renewable energy plan called CleanPowerSF.

“Mayor Lee and the Public Utilities Commission objected to CleanPowerSF, but they have offered no other solution to provide San Franciscans with 100 percent renewable electricity,” Avalos said in a public statement. “With this ordinance, we can either join Marin or we can implement our own program, but we can no longer afford to do nothing.”

The resolution is the latest effort in the long saga to implement CleanPowerSF, San Francisco’s proposed renewable energy alternative to PG&E, whose current energy mix is only 19 percent renewable. Much of PG&E’s current mix is dirty and directly contributes to half of San Francisco’s carbon footprint, according to the city’s own recent Climate Action Strategy.

Joining Marin under a Joint Powers Authority would provide a vehicle for San Francisco to enact CleanPowerSF’s goals, long blocked by the mayor. San Francisco’s renewable energy effort may have lingered in legal limbo for years, but Marin made the switch to renewables in 2010.

“It’s something people want, and it also reduces greenhouse gas emissions,” Marin Clean Energy Executive Officer Dawn Weisz told the Guardian. Much of Northern California, she noted, has little choice but to use PG&E for their electricity.

“The people never chose to have a monopoly in place,” she said. “People like having choices.”

Marin chose to switch to renewable energy in 2010, and MCE offers two energy mix options: A 100 percent renewable energy option, and a less expensive 50 percent renewable option. MCE officials told the Guardian they have a 75 percent customer adoption rate, meaning most of Marin County is running on clean, renewable energy.

Using an energy bill calculator on MCE’s website, the average homeowner pays about $80 a month for their renewable energy in the summer, just $2 more than their dirty PG&E power. The program has been so successful for MCE’s approximately 125,000 customers that other cities have joined with Marin under what is called a Joint Powers Authority, allowing those cities to access MCE’s grid.

The City of Richmond joined into a Joint Powers Authority with Marin County in 2012, and Napa County also expressed interest in providing renewable energy through MCE.  That large adoption rate may be what has PG&E running scared.

“We faced very strong opposition from the incumbent utility during our launch,” Weisz told the Guardian, referring to PG&E. “Fortunately, we have a much better relationship with them now, and they serve as a good partner.”

The renewable energy is distributed along PG&E’s existing infrastructure, so the utility still has a role to play in providing electricity to Marin. But the utility certainly has worries when it comes to generating electricity, as Marin is building new sources of renewable energy up and down California.

“We have 24 different power supply contracts,” Weisz told us. This includes new solar facilities in San Rafael and the Central Valley, and renewable energy sources in Roseville and and Placer County.

Though other cities have signed on to receive energy through Marin County’s MCE program, San Francisco joining would be another ballgame entirely, Weisz said.

MCE has a policy of incremental expansion, she told us, and defines potential affiliate cities and counties as having fewer than 30,000 customers who are less than 30 miles away. Though San Francisco is a stone’s throw from Marin County, the potential customer base is huge: San Francisco has a population of over 800,000 people.

“It would require some analysis,” Wisz said dryly.

MCE’s analysis to include Napa County in its energy mix took 60 days, she said. Notably, San Francisco may produce its own power and use its own mix, and simply use MCE’s billing setup. Basically, San Francisco would provide energy through CleanPowerSF, but MCE would be a contractor that administers San Francisco’s program.

But joining into Marin’s renewable energy program has more hurdles than just figuring out the mix. Clean Power SF is a Community Choice Aggregation program, defined by state law as exactly that — part of the community. Jumping over to Marin may create a legal mess for San Francisco, but there is hope.

Assembly Bill 2159, introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, would allow a county’s Board of Supervisors to approve joining a Joint Powers Authority with another municipality, in this case, allowing San Francisco to join up with Marin, while still creating its own CCA program.

The bill just cleared the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee yesterday, and has a ways to go.

If that sounds like a legal headache, it is. But advocates say its necessary because Mayor Ed Lee has “stacked the deck” at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, hiring people friendly to blocking CleanPowerSF on his behalf.

“The main purpose of passing it is to get through the mayor’s log jam,” clean power advocate Eric Brooks told the Guardian. “We want San Francisco to go faster and make more green jobs.”

And, of course, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Avalos’ office estimates that in the time the mayor has stalled Clean Power SF, San Francisco has generated 80 million pounds of CO2.

Revisionist future


Acidified oceans. Dirty air. Superstorms. Food shortages. Mass migration. War. The International Panel on Climate Change last week released the final installment of its latest authoritative report on the catastrophic effects of global climate change.

In no uncertain terms, the report states, it is urgent that steps be taken to mitigate the worst impacts. The world’s cities are the most at risk — yet hold the greatest potential for turning the tide, IPCC scientists noted. Making cities greener is one of the most effective ways to minimize climate change.

But as experts turn to cities in hopes of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, newly released documents suggest that officials in San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s office ordered the most effective strategies for achieving clean energy goals to be removed from the city’s plan for combating climate change.



The city’s Climate Action Strategy sets out the overarching goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, a yardstick consistent with state and regional goals. For 10 years, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission worked on a program that would have given city residents and businesses more access to renewable energy sources to help meet that emissions reduction target.

CleanPowerSF, a municipal power program that would replace Pacific Gas & Electric power for San Francisco customers, would provide electricity from 100 percent, California-certified renewable sources such as solar, wind, small hydro, and other green energy sources.

The Climate Action Strategy calls creation of a renewable energy portfolio a critical strategy for meeting the goal — and that’s precisely what CleanPowerSF set out to achieve. Over the course of a decade, millions of dollars were invested and untold staff hours devoted to creating the program.

Yet at the direction of Roger Kim, the mayor’s senior advisor on the environment, the city’s Department of the Environment removed the Climate Action Strategy’s reference to CleanPowerSF before the document was released to the public. The Department of the Environment was also directed to remove reference to PG&E’s 100 percent Green Power Option, a program floated as an alternative to CleanPowerSF.


In a Sept. 30 memo to Kim, obtained via a public records request, former Department of Environment Director Melanie Nutter wrote, “At the request of the Mayor’s Office, mention of PG&E’s 100% Green Power Option and SFPUC’s CleanPowerSF program were removed from the Energy Chapter and replaced with the overarching goal of 100% renewable electricity (pgs 16,17).”

Nutter recently stepped down as the director of the agency.

The timing of Nutter’s memo is significant. Just weeks earlier, the SFPUC — whose five-member governing board is appointed by the mayor — refused to approve a not-to-exceed rate that would have allowed CleanPowerSF to move forward as planned. Instead of expressing opposition to the rate itself, commissioners expressed their overall opposition to CleanPowerSF before voting it down.

Lee had criticized the cost and mechanisms of CleanPowerSF, without proposing an alternative (see “Power struggle,” 9/17/13). His real motivations for deleting these two strategies from the city’s Climate Action Strategy report remain unclear, but Lee has long supported PG&E, which stands to lose customers if CleanPowerSF is successful.



Both CleanPowerSF and PG&E’s green option were held up as pathways toward a greener future in the Climate Action Strategy until the Mayor’s Office intervened, leaving no city mechanisms for most San Franciscans to choose renewable energy sources.

“PG&E’s proposed green option and CleanPowerSF could operate in parallel,” Nutter wrote in a memo drafted a couple years ago. “CleanPowerSF is likely to have a much greater environmental benefit due to the size of the customer base that would be served, the program’s objective to create a market for local renewable power, and the amount of greenhouse gas reductions achieved.”

So why then were both of these efforts eliminated from the report at the last minute, after being incorporated by experts in the field? Lee Communications Director Christine Falvey did not provide an answer to this specific Guardian question about the removal decision despite being asked several times.

When the Guardian asked Mayor Lee in March why CleanPowerSF was removed from the report, Lee responded, “I don’t think I have a real answer for that.”

Also unanswered is the question of how the city will meet its greenhouse gas emission reductions target. A quarter of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions derive from residential and commercial electricity, according to the Climate Action Strategy. 


Electricity provided by PG&E is only 50 percent emission-free, with nuclear energy as the company’s most significant carbon-free power source. SFPUC projections have shown that CleanPowerSF could reduce citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2030.

Another quarter of our emissions come from natural gas usage, and 40 percent of total emissions are belched into the air by automobiles. Lee wants to encourage more electric vehicles, but that won’t help much if they’re powered by a dirty power portfolio.

Whereas CleanPowerSF represented a carefully crafted plan for hitting these long-term targets, Lee’s most recent comments on how these important goals will be reached seem vague at best.

“I think we take all our deliberations on climate action seriously,” Lee told the Guardian in March, “and I do think that our focus now has been on energy efficiencies. We are also trying now to beef up the GoSolar program to be sure to catch whatever the state is willing to do, because Governor [Jerry] Brown has been trying to tap where there can be more examples of that.”

“The Mayor is open to exploring all avenues that might be available to achieve our energy goals,” Falvey told us. “In fact, it will take a variety of strategies working in concert to achieve them, including increasing the energy efficiency of buildings to reduce the total power load, developing in-city renewables, and options for increasing the provision of renewable power at a utility-scale.”

Those last two goals are precisely what CleanPowerSF would have done. Critics have decried Lee’s move as harmful and politically motivated. “What Mayor Lee has succeeded in doing is to rip the guts out of the new Climate Action Strategy,” John Rizzo wrote in a recent Sierra Club newsletter, “rendering it as meaningless as the missed greenhouse-gas reduction targets from 2012.”



At the Board of Supervisors’ mayor question time in March, Sup. John Avalos asked Lee to direct the Department of Environment to return CleanPowerSF to the Climate Action Strategy and commit to launching the program in 2014.


Lee answered that he could not, saying the program was too problematic and the SFPUC has too many infrastructure repair needs. The SFPUC has pulled its staff from the project to redirect that work into energy infrastructure improvements.

Some are still holding out hope that CleanPowerSF could move forward. San Francisco’s Local Agency Formation Commission is set to begin researching what CleanPowerSF “would look like and to address other concerns that the Mayor and SFPUC Commissioners have raised,” LAFCo’s Senior Program Officer Jason Fried said.

Proponents are also investigating ways to launch the program independently of the mayor and the SFPUC, by partnering with Marin County’s version of the program.

“There is talk about joining the Marin Joint Powers Authority,” Fried said, “but we will exhaust every option to run our own program. We want the PUC and mayor on board.”

While the mayor and the commissioners charged with overseeing the SFPUC seem content to let CleanPowerSF fade into memory, Avalos is not willing to let it go without a fight.

“We’re facing the greatest crisis for this city, and our government pulls back on how to achieve this,” Avalos said at a March 31 Board of Supervisors committee hearing on the Climate Action Strategy. “If we want to be a great city, it’s up to us to generate the political will to implement these strategies.”

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez contributed to this report.

Billionaire helps poke holes in oil industry’s argument for drilling Monterey Shale

“We’ve been told that there’s a great oil boom on the immediate horizon,” billionaire investor and Pac Heights resident Tom Steyer noted at the start of a March 27 talk in Sacramento. 

But Steyer (who has pledged to spend $100 million on ad campaigns for the 2014 election to promote action on climate change) wasn’t there to trumpet the oil industry’s high expectations. Instead, he introduced panelists who dismissed the buzz on drilling the Monterey Shale as pie-in-the-sky hype.

Dr. David Hughes, a geoscientist with the Post Carbon Institute, and researcher Robert Collier had been invited to speak by Next Generation, a policy group focused on climate change that was co-founded by Steyer.

Last year, researchers from the University of Southern California released a study that wound up being cited time and again as the basis for the oil industry’s arguments in the context of a statewide debate on fracking ignited by environmentalists.

Partially funded by the Western States Petroleum Association, oil industry lobbyists, the USC report outlined a rosy economic outlook stemming from oil extraction in the Monterey Shale, a vast geologic formation touted as “a new, economy-spurring natural resource.”

The Monterey Shale spans 1,750 square miles, running beneath much of the San Joaquin Valley and into Southern California. Authors of a private-sector report produced by INTEK, referenced by the USC report, estimated that 15.4 billion barrels of oil could be extracted from the shale formation – mostly through nontraditional methods such as fracking or acidizing, a process that involves pumping acid underground.

But Hughes, the geoscientist, characterized this estimate as unrealistic. “The Monterey Shale certainly will produce more oil and gas, but likely only a very small fraction of what’s been reported in the INTEK report,” he said. “Projections are highly unlikely to be realized.” The Post Carbon Institute and Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy published their own report, Drilling California: A Reality Check on the Monterey Shale.

Also unlikely to be realized are the optimistic figures on job creation and economic activity, Collier noted.

California is the nation’s fourth largest oil producer, but its production has been on a steady decline for the past two decades. “So the hopes for the Monterey Shale come in the context of a gradual decline, and the hopes that California will echo the big boom of North Dakota and Texas,” he said.

The USC report contained sensational projections, predicting that 2.8 million net new jobs would be created statewide in sectors indirectly or directly associated with oil. The most optimistic scenario predicted 4.4 million net new jobs. The report also predicted that opening up the Monterey Shale for drilling would result in a 14 percent increase in per capita GDP, as well as  $24 billion in state and local tax revenues.

And as the debate about regulating fracking raged on, the findings in this study were “echoed by politicians of both parties,” Collier noted.

But prominent economists, tapped by Next Generation to analyze the study, said they could find no basis for certain claims.

Next Generation researchers turned to University of California economists Jerry Nickelsburg of UCLA, Jesse Rothstein of UC Berkeley and Olivier Deschênes of UC Santa Barbara. “They said: ‘We cannot see any justification for these incredible numbers,” Collier reported. “They seem too big to be believable.”

Instead, the economists believed the potential job creation was closer to 100,000 in total direct and indirect employment, he added. More information is presented in Next Generation’s report.

So arguments that the oil industry has been using in favor of opening up the Monterey Shale might be based on flimsy math. 

Steyer, at the close of the talk, put in a plug for focusing on clean-energy sector growth instead.

“When we sit here and talk about jobs, let’s remember that the clean energy jobs are most likely to solve our employment problems,” he said. “If we want a boom in energy production, then we have a boom in energy production. I think it’s clear, our future is in advanced energy.”

Plans for SF clean energy program still underway, despite political opposition

San Francisco’s longstanding effort to develop a municipal renewable energy program has been stymied by politics, but Sup. London Breed has taken up the cause of advancing aspects of the plan that haven’t been obstructed.

At a Dec. 13 meeting of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), a committee comprised of members of the Board of Supervisors that has been working to develop CleanPowerSF for years, Breed called for putting out a Request for Proposals to develop a concrete plan for building out local renewable energy infrastructure. LAFCo adopted the motion. 

With plans for solar panel arrays or wind power facilities that would generate hundreds of megawatts of electricity for the municipal energy program, the build-out is a key aspect of the plan that could lead to job creation and stable electricity rates in the long term.

“Part of what I think is important in developing a plan is to make sure that if there are people who oppose it, that we have answers,” Breed said. “And we have clear answers, so that we’re communicating what the real, true accurate message is: There is real possibility for local jobs.”

Earlier this year, members of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, a body composed of mayoral appointees, refused to approve a not-to-exceed rate, effectively obstructing any forward progress on the green municipal power program. But some advocates who are thinking long-term have merely taken the setback as an opportunity to put some time and energy into crafting a well thought out plan that serves the interests of job seekers and environmentalists alike, which would ulimately be politically difficult to oppose.

The rate approval was a necessary step toward inking a contract with Shell Energy North America, the contractor selected by the SFPUC to procure renewable energy on the open market until a build-out gets off the ground.

Just before the commissioners made their decision, opponents of the plan who are affiliated with Pacific Gas & Electric Company – the utility giant that stands to lose customers if CleanPowerSF goes forward – plastered San Francisco residences with flyers denouncing the program and Shell’s involvement. The mailers were paid for by IBEW 1245, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union that represents PG&E employees.

Breed reflected on that messaging as an unfortunate setback. “It created, I think, the challenges that we’re facing getting this program moving forward,” she said. “We need a clear communication strategy. We need a clear understanding of the build-out.”

Eric Brooks, a longtime advocate of CleanPowerSF who has attended hundreds of meetings to help shape the plan on behalf of his nonprofit, Our City, said he was pleased with the latest direction LAFCo talks had taken. He recently penned an editorial for the Bay Guardian calling on LAFCo to take control of the program.

“This does not get around the political problem we have,” he said. “Politically, the program isn’t moving forward. On Aug. 13, from [the SFPUC’s] standpoint, they put the program on hold.” Nevertheless, “the idea is to work on all the other things, and get those things done.” Once there is a practical plan spelling out how the city will move forward with building out green renewable energy infrastructure, he said, it could serve to “show the building trade unions what’s possible.”

From what Brooks said and what was voiced at the meeting, it seems the political strategy of project proponents will be to bring on a consultant to hash out more tangible goals with regard to job creation, and then use those shovel-ready plans to bring trade unions on board. From there, Brooks hopes there may be more leverage to push for approval – or perhaps to pursue an alternative management structure that gets around the SFPUC, such as joining with another municipality to form a Joint Powers Authority that would oversee the program.

Sup. David Campos, who has been a key supporter of CleanPowerSF along with Sup. John Avalos, did voice some reservations about moving forward with the RFP. “We are here,” halted from moving forward, “even though we have a program that has been approved by the Board of Supervisors,” he pointed out. “How do we avoid going down the path of doing additional work, only to find ourselves in the same predicament?”

The political pressure against CleanPowerSF, fueled by groups associated with PG&E in political alignment with Mayor Ed Lee, is formidable. Nevertheless, advocates from environmental organizations such as, the Sierra Club and others have kept pushing for the program out of a conviction that it represents an opportunity to curb greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change at the local level.

“This is a very important move,” said June Brashares, a steering committee member of the Local Clean Energy Alliance. “A key piece of work that has not yet been done is the selection of actual sites all over the city for the installation of hundreds of megawatts of local clean energy projects that will make up CleanPowerSF.”

UPDATE: After we posted this, Breed returned a phone call from earlier in the day. She shared some thoughts about the program:

“I just think we’re overdue, to do it. The fact that we have five commissioners appointed, not necessarily elected, [blocking the program] disturbs me,” she said.

Asked why she’s supportive of CleanPowerSF, Breed said, “It’s not just about the choice. It’s also about the environment, and the future. There’s a lot of money in energy in general, and part of that money should go back to the local economy through those jobs.”

When we asked her about the strategy for advancing the program, she responded, “We want labor to be a partner on this. We want to make sure that it’s clear, and more importantly, we want it to be a strong proposal … My goal is to make it difficult for them to oppose it.”

Finally, questioned on whether she was worried about the political opposition, Breed responded, “I can’t do my job in fear that someone may oppose it. I have to do it based on what I think is truly right for the city of San Francisco.”

California joins Oregon, Washington and British Columbia in climate action plan

Gov. Jerry Brown announced a regional agreement Oct. 28 with Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia to align policies for combating climate change.

“This is what is totally unique: We have a problem whose timescale is beyond anything we’ve ever dealt with,” Brown said as he gathered with Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark (who joined remotely) to sign the agreement. “So, we have to take action before we see or experience all the problems we’re dealing with.”

In most political venues, “to actually utter the word ‘global warming’ is deviant and radical in 2013,” Brown said. “But you just watch … this will spread until we have a handle on the world’s greatest existential challenge.”

Called the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy, the pact commits all the jurisdictions to take a leadership role in national and international climate change policy by agreeing to emissions reduction targets; to transition the West Coast to cleaner modes of transportation such as high-speed rail; and to invest in clean energy and infrastructure through actions like streamlining permitting of renewable energy infrastructure and supporting integration of the region’s electricity grids.

Apart from this accord, Brown noted that “California has already signed a memorandum of understanding with several provinces in China,” concerning the need to work together on climate change, “and in fact with the national government itself.”

Meanwhile, a group of protesters gathered outside the Cisco-Meraki offices in Mission Bay, where the event was held, to oppose Brown’s unwillingness to support a statewide ban on fracking, an oil and gas extraction technique that environmentalists fear could contribute to groundwater contamination and increased greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s starkly hypocritical for Governor Brown to be inking climate agreements while he’s at the same time green-lighting a massive expansion of fracking for dirty oil in California,” said protester Zack Malitz.

Asked to respond to the protesters’ concerns, Brown responded, “I signed legislation that will create the most comprehensive environmental analysis of fracking today,” referring to a bill that requires environmental review but has been criticized as flawed because it does not impose an outright ban.

“The big issue is the Monterey Shale,” he added, referring to an expansive underground oil reserve that environmentalists fear could be opened up to fracking, “and nobody is talking about doing anything there for an extended period of time, and not before the environmental document.”

LAFCo should launch CleanPowerSF


OPINION Last month, the Mayor’s Office and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) — largely at the mayor’s behest — refused to launch CleanPowerSF, a program which is absolutely crucial to leading the country and the world to reverse the climate crisis (see “Power struggle,” Sept. 18).

The Board of Supervisors must now use its state-granted authority to activate San Francisco’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to launch CleanPowerSF, regardless of SFPUC.

CleanPowerSF plans currently waiting to be implemented would create 1,500 jobs a year for the next 10 years, and install over 400 megawatts of local clean electricity projects. By 2024, 50 percent of our electricity would be generated by such local clean installations.

The newest proposed rates for CleanPowerSF are now fully competitive with PG&E, and the SFPUC’s staff (before the mayor intervened) was making unprecedented progress on the local clean energy installation plans. So at the SFPUC’s Aug. 13 hearing on CleanPowerSF rate-setting, community and environmental advocates stood unanimously to urge that the program be launched.

For the mayor and SFPUC of what is supposed to be one of the most environmental cities on Earth to completely ignore those community advocates, and throw a monkey wrench into the launching of CleanPowerSF, is simply beyond the pale.

Thankfully, in its wisdom, when the 2002 California Legislature passed the Community Choice law that made CleanPowerSF possible, it put city councils and county boards legally in charge of such programs (not mayors).

So is not up to the Mayor’s Office whether or not CleanPowerSF is launched. It is instead the job of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. And in a resounding 9-2 vote on Sept. 17, the Board of Supervisors raked the SFPUC (and by extension, the mayor) over the coals for not initiating CleanPowerSF. The vote was in favor of Sup. London Breed’s resolution demanding that the SFPUC obey the will of the board and launch CleanPowerSF immediately.

That’s a great first step, but the board now needs to go beyond resolutions and take decisive action through LAFCo, its most powerful tool for moving CleanPowerSF. LAFCo is independent of city government, is funded and tasked to oversee new enterprise programs like CleanPowerSF, and four of its five members are elected supervisors.


This independent supermajority can check mayoral overreach, and the LAFCo’s current board commissioners are John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar, and London Breed, all advocates of CleanPowerSF.

LAFCo was specifically given the budget and authority to act on CleanPowerSF when SFPUC fails to do so, and has already done this successfully in the past. When CleanPowerSF was first created in 2004, SFPUC refused to draft an implementation plan. In response, LAFCo stepped in with its own implementation plan and SFPUC, not wanting to lose influence, got back to work.

In 2011, SFPUC tried to sidetrack CleanPowerSF into only purchasing (but not building) clean power, refusing to fund planning work to establish a local installation and green jobs program. LAFCO stepped in to fund that work itself, and again SFPUC came back to the fold and hired Community Choice experts Local Power to do the work.

Now, yet again, SFPUC is refusing to do its job. Six months ago, it abruptly halted work on the local buildout and green jobs plan, and last month SFPUC put the whole program on hold by not setting rates.

LAFCo must now use its authority and leverage to both remove the rate-setting road block, and get the CleanPowerSF local buildout planning back on track. Eric Brooks is the sustainability chair of the San Francisco Green Party.

Power struggle


Jason Fried could barely believe what was coming out of the squawk box in his office at the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission on Sept. 10, as he listened to Mayor Ed Lee describe the CleanPowerSF program Fried had spent years helping to develop.

The program would give San Franciscans the choice of buying their electricity from clean, renewable energy sources rather than Pacific Gas & Electric’s oil, coal, hydro, and nuclear dominated power portfolio, a program that was finally able to become competitive with PG&E on price and still fund the creation of local clean energy projects.

But the program that Lee described — which three of his appointees on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission have recently decided to block, against the wishes of the Board of Supervisors supermajority that approved it (see “Fizzling energy,” Aug. 21) — sounded nothing like the program that Fried, LAFCo’s senior program officer, knows so well.

As Lee described it, CleanPowerSF is “based on vague promises” and has “questionable environmental benefits,” claiming it has “gotten progressively more expensive” and “creates no local jobs.”

“What the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission did was in the best interests of the city,” Lee said. The city has spent untold hours and dollars over the last decade developing and approving CleanPowerSF.

“It was very frustrating to watch, particularly when you see him just making stuff up,” said Fried. “If he wants to be against CCAs [Community Choice Aggregation, that state-created program the CleanPowerSF is a part of], fine, just say that…But he wasn’t even getting his numbers right.”



Questioned by the Guardian following his monthly mayoral policy discussion at the board, where all five questions from frustrated supervisors were about CleanPowerSF, Lee cast himself as sticking to the facts.

“I know that elements of this are somewhat complicated because you have to actually read a lot of volumes of materials to understand the choice aggregation program,” Lee said, claiming, “I’m taking it exactly from facts that were presented.”

But in reality, Lee was cherry-picking facts that were either out-of-date or presented in a misleading way, while ignoring inconvenient questions like how the city can still achieve its clean energy goals without it, or why his appointees are subverting broadly supported public policy on technical grounds that appear to exceed their authority.

Take Lee’s claim that the CleanPowerSF program approved by the board “was 95 percent renewable on day one,” which he used to support his argument that “when the final project is so vastly different than the original intent, the SFPUC has to intervene.”

Lee is referring to the “three buckets” from which the program will draw its energy, as defined by the California Public Utilities Commission. Bucket 1 is the gold standard: juice coming directly from certified renewable energy sources in California. Bucket 2 is renewable energy that isn’t reliable and must be “firmed and shaped” by other energy sources, such as wind or solar farms supplemented by fossil fuels when there’s little wind or sunshine. And Bucket 3 is Renewable Energy Credits, which support creation of renewable energy facilities or green power purchased from other states.

When the board approved the program in September 2012, the SFPUC called for it to secure 10 percent of the power from Bucket 1, 85 percent from Bucket 2, and 5 percent from Bucket 3, although these were just guidelines and the SFPUC was specifically authorized to change that mix.

Lee and other critics of the program decried the program’s cost of more than 14 cents per kilowatt-hour, while supporters worried the price would cause more customers to opt-out, so the SFPUC decided to allow more RECs, while also substantially increasing the amount of guaranteed green power.

“The difference between buckets two and three is not that big a difference,” Fried said, noting the Bucket 2 can actually include a substantial amount of dirty energy. “It really depends on how you’re firming and shaping.”

So the SFPUC increased the size of Bucket 1 to 25 percent and Bucket 3 to 75 percent, with idea being that RECs are only an interim step toward issuance of revenue-bonds to build renewable energy projects that would eventually fill Bucket 1 to overflowing. All for the not-to-exceed rate of 11.5 cents per kilowatt-hour that the SFPUC is refusing to approve.

“Our entire mix would be 100 percent greenhouse-gas-free, but the mayor is ignoring that because it doesn’t fit his ‘green’ argument,” Fried said, also noting that it would be generated in-state by union workers. “PG&E can’t make that same claim.”

CPUC statistics show PG&E derives less than the state-mandated 20 percent of its energy from clean, renewable sources, and that the percentage of its portfolio that is greenhouse gas-free actually dropped in 2012, to 51 percent from 59 percent in 2011. And despite Lee’s emphasis on local jobs, PG&E’s three largest solar projects built in 2012 are outside California.

By contrast, CPSF contractor Shell Energy North America wrote in an Aug. 12 letter that in addition to setting aside $1.5 million for local buildout after its first year, which “should create local jobs,” it is now negotiating in-state wind and hydroelectric (“operated by union labor”) contracts to meet the program’s demands.

But at this point, supporters of the program are running out of options to get that contract approved.



CleanPowerSF has broad political support in San Francisco, from Sups. David Campos, John Avalos, and other progressives, to moderates including Sup. Scott Wiener and state Sen. Mark Leno, who authored legislation to protect nascent CCAs from PG&E meddling and has been a steadfast supporter of CleanPowerSF.

“There’s a constitutional crisis, or a [City] Charter crisis, of sorts,” Leno said, referring to the standoff. “The legislative body has been unequivocal in its desire to proceed and it’s not for this commission to interfere with that decision.”

Leno said PG&E and its allies have played strong behind-the-scenes roles in sabotaging this program. “They are definitely exerting their influence,” Leno said, “they have never stopped trying to derail this.” SFPUC Chair Art Torres, who is leading the obstruction, didn’t return a Guardian call for comment.

If there is a silver lining, Leno said it’s that “PG&E has had to present its own version of green energy. But the two can coexist. We want competition.”

So does Fried, LAFCo, and all of the supervisors who sit on that commission, which has long tried to break PG&E’s monopoly.

“It’s close to checkmate, but we’re trying to breathe new life into this,” Sup. John Avalos, who sits on LAFCo, told us. “Part of the politics can be seen in the mayor’s statements, which are full of misinformation.”

Sup. David Campos, also on LAFCo, told us CleanPowerSF is “a good program, and it’s consistent with what the Board of Supervisors approved. I think it’s a mistake for the city not to move on this and it’s a bad thing for consumers.”

The newest member of LAFCo, Sup. London Breed, authored a resolution supporting CPSF that the Board of Supervisors was set to consider on Sept. 17, after Guardian press time. It recites a history of strong support for the program by the Board of Supervisors, starting with a unanimous votes in 2004 and 2007 to launch the CCA and continuing through the supermajority approval of CleanPowerSF and a $20 million appropriation to launch it in September 2012.

It noted that the SFPUC held 18 meetings on the program between September 2012 and August 2013, and that its Rate Fairness Board determined that rates for the Phase 1 are “technically fair.”

The resolution emphasizes an important governance issue at stake: “Irrespective of the particular policy decision, the Board of Supervisors must protect and defend its authority to make policy decisions.”

Yet there’s been a concerted effort to undermine CleanPowerSF this summer, led by appointees and allies of Lee and PG&E.

At the Aug. 6 Commission on the Environment meeting, Commissioner Joshua Arce pushed Department of the Environment head Melanie Nutter to renounce CPSF as no longer a green power program, something she refused to do. Arce fell a vote short of approving a resolution characterizing the program as not meeting “all of the commission’s original goals” and urging the SFPUC “to work with the Department of the Environment to craft a program that is acceptable to the San Francisco Environment Commission.”

Breed said she was disappointed in Lee’s approach, although she takes him at his word when he says he’s open to alternatives.

“The questions were answered, but there wasn’t any closure in terms of what this means for the future,” Breed said. “If not this program, what’s the alternative?”

If the city is going to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals, which call for reducing 1990’s carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2017 and 40 percent by 2025, it’s going to have to offer some alternative.

“We need to be aggressive about moving in this direction,” Breed said, “and we need to make sure the public has an alternative to PG&E.”


Backward on climate

After a hearing lasting several hours on Tue/13, members of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission voted down a motion to approve electricity rates for CleanPowerSF, a municipal energy program designed to offer a 100 percent green energy mix to San Francisco customers.

The approval of that “not-to-exceed” rate, set at 11.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, would have cleared the path to set CleanPowerSF in motion after almost a decade of politically charged debates and setbacks.

“I feel like today is a historic moment for the SFPUC as well as the city of San Francisco,” commissioner Francesca Vietor said as she introduced her motion to approve the rate. “Even though I understand this is only a vote to approve the not-to-exceed rate,” she added, it was a critical first step toward a long-term vision in which “we will also be able to create a new generation of green collar workers and build our own renewable power system.”

In the end, Vietor and Commissioner Anson Moran were the only ones to favor the rate approval, while Ann Moller Caen, Vince Courtney and President Art Torres shot it down. So once again, CleanPowerSF has been kicked back in limbo.

“This is not just about rates today,” Torres said. “If we approve these rates, that would authorize the General Manager [of the SFPUC] to authorize a contract with Shell.”  

Oil giant Shell Energy North America was tapped by the SFPUC to purchase green energy on the open market during the first phase of the program. Although Shell is a fossil fuel company with a disgraceful human rights track record, progressives and environmentalists stand behind a speedy approval of that contract, because they say it is a crucial first step toward realizing the ultimate project vision of constructing city-owned and operated renewable energy facilities while creating local green jobs.

“The deal is that you cannot do that until you move forward, and launch the program,” said Shawn Marshall, executive director of LEAN – a group that assists with clean-energy municipal power programs – speaking at a rally just before the hearing. “You have to live to go local. We call on the mayor’s office to stop impeding progress with heavy-handed politics and we ask the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to stay focused on its job of implementing a program that was approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last September.”

Rather than focusing on the question of whether or not to approve the rate, Torres and Caen voiced generally negative sentiments about the CleanPowerSF endeavor before casting “no” votes on the rate approval. Caen said she’d “always had problems with the opt-out situation,” referring to a system of automatic enrollment in the program, and Torres criticized the project for having changed shape, saying, “at the end of the day, this is not what San Franciscans had anticipated.”

The bid to establish CleanPowerSF is mired in charged politics. Because the program threatens Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s monopoly in San Francisco, the utility giant is prepared to shell out whatever it takes to stop the forward momentum. PG&E is deeply influential in San Francisco City Hall, having richly rewarded former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, known to be a frequent dining companion of Mayor Ed Lee, for his consulting services, for instance. Lee opposes the program, and the mayor appoints the SFPUC commissioners.

Torres, the commission president, bristled at suggestions from the public that he was merely carrying the mayor’s water, saying, “I do my own homework, and I make up my own mind.”

But Sup. John Avalos has made up his own mind too, and he sent legislative aide Jeremy Pollock to convey the message to the SFPUC that enough is enough. Avalos plans to go to the City Attorney to find out what can be done about the relentless foot-dragging of a commission that just won’t approve a fair rate for a program that was approved by the Board of Supervisors last fall.

During the public comment session of the hearing, Pollock read Avalos’ statement, which characterized the commission’s refusal to approve the rate as a “constitutional crisis” with regard to the body’s responsibilities.

“Any further delay will essentially show that we are in a constitutional crisis caused by a city department failing to carry out a policy approved by a veto-proof supermajority of the Board of Supervisors,” Avalos’ statement noted. “The Board stands ready to approve these rates, but nothing more can happen until you take action. The City Charter is silent on the possibility of the Public Utilities Commission failing to act on a proposed utility rate. Therefore if there is further delay, I feel I have no choice but to request that the City Attorney explore our options to resolve this type of stalemate—including the possibility of drafting a Charter Amendment. CleanPowerSF is too important and the threat of climate change is too significant to allow this program to die on the vine. It is time for leadership. And this vote will be long remembered for the action you take today.”

But instead of just approving that rate – which is lower, by the way, than originally proposed – the commissioners just seized the opportunity to halt the program from moving forward, since CleanPowerSF cannot advance without a contract, and the contract cannot be signed until a rate has been formally approved.

“It seems as if they are essentially refusing to establish a fair rate, so we’re going to ask the city attorney, you know, what’s the recourse if the PUC is failing to carry out their duties?” Pollock noted.

Just before the votes were cast, Vietor, who had urged her colleagues to go forward and approve the rate at the outset of the meeting, was asked to re-state her motion. She returned to the bright and optimistic prepared statement she’d read at the beginning, only this time with a note of frustration because it was clear that the votes weren’t there. “Today is a historic moment for the San Francisco public utility commission,” she read out loud, “to become a leader in combating climate change.”

Note: This post has been updated from an earlier version.

PG&E union spreads lies about CleanPowerSF

San Francisco’s municipal power agency is gearing up to launch one of the most climate-friendly alternative energy programs in the country, but the forces behind a misleading opposition campaign seek to torpedo that effort.

This past weekend, glossy ads depicting seashells and spilled oil blanketed the doorknobs of Noe Valley residences. Paid for by IBEW 1245, the union that represents employees of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the door hangers conveyed the fear-mongering message that CleanPowerSF “isn’t clean. It’s dirtier than our current power.”

To put it bluntly, that’s bullshit.

Taking them at face value, you might conclude that Shell was about to begin drilling offshore in the San Francisco Bay and that city officials were planning to meet the city’s energy needs with a polluting power plant run solely off tar sands oil. They might even club some baby seals while they were at it.

What’s really happening is that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is gearing up for a hearing on Tue/13 to discuss rate setting for CleanPowerSF, a municipal green energy program that’s been in the works for years. As the power agency inches closer to a full program launch, PG&E and its employees are worried they’ll lose business when San Francisco customers are automatically enrolled in the CleanPowerSF program.

The new power program will continue to use PG&E infrastructure and its existing billing system, but customers’ homes will be powered with a greener electricity mix procured through the city-run program, which is contracting with Shell Energy North America to purchase electricity on the open market from a variety of green power sources.

Naturally, San Francisco is teeming with savvy environmentalists who aren’t buying the slick oppositional blitzkrieg. On Aug. 13, some will band together to set the record straight when a host of representatives from the Sierra Club and others rally at City Hall at noon to express support for immediate implementation of CleanPowerSF.

“Clean energy aggregation is on the rise across the country, making an immediate and direct impact on climate emissions,” said Shawn Marshall, Director of LEAN Energy US. LEAN works with organizations that use the municipal power-purchasing model that CleanPower SF is based on. “The only thing blocking progress in San Francisco is corporate politics, and we encourage the city to deliver on its environmental promises by pressing ahead with CleanPowerSF.”

In a letter to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, former EPA administrator and World Wildlife Fund Chairman Emeritus William K. Reilly emphasized that CleanPowerSF “is a crucial step for achieving California’s 2020 greenhouse gas goals. It’s also an essential model for California and the rest of the country as cities and communities are compelled to address the problems fueled by climate change.”

Back to those misleading ads. While it is true that Shell is an oil company with a shoddy track record of human rights abuses, it is not true that the energy supplied by CleanPowerSF will be dirtier than electricity provided by PG&E.

To the contrary, only 20 percent of PG&E’s energy mix is derived from green power sources, while the majority of its electricity is generated by nuclear facilities or natural gas power plants. PG&E is also the company responsible for the hexavalent chromium groundwater contamination in the California town of Hinkley, in the Mojave Desert, which provided the basis for the movie Erin Brockovich.

And more recently, PG&E was responsible for the deadly pipeline explosion in San Bruno, which leveled an entire neighborhood. In comparison, CleanPower SF will offer a 100 percent renewable energy mix out of the starting gate.

Some of that mix will initially be derived from renewable energy credits. Called RECs, they’re cheaper because they are “credits” accounting for green power generated somewhere, as opposed to actual green power coming straight over the power lines.

But it’s important to note that the initial use of RECs is a pricing strategy designed to put the agency in a financial position to support green power projects here in San Francisco a little further down the road.

The long-term plan of constructing green power facilities locally would create permanent, decent-paying jobs. It would also supply San Franciscans with electricity generated with technology that can harness the unlimited power potential of the California sun, or the wind that blows in off the Pacific Ocean. This is the outcome that PG&E affiliates seek to thwart, because they fear profit loss.

A few months ago, in an interview with the Guardian, SFPUC spokesperson Charles Sheehan emphasized that it had taken many conversations to get to the point that the agency has finally reached.

“We’ve lowered the rate, we’re now more competitive with PG&E’s baseline offering, and we’re on parity with their potential green tariff program,” he explained. Speaking of a dedicated revenue stream that would go toward funding local clean-power projects, he said, “That line item is really critical to get us to the build-out that we’ve all collectively envisioned as a staff, and as a community.”




Protest: Call on Walmart and Gap to protect worker safety Four Seasons, 757 Market, SF. Continue to Gap flagship store, 980 Market, SF. 5pm, free. Activists with Our Walmart and San Francisco Jobs With Justice recently discovered that Walmart made clothing at Rana Plaza, the Bangladesh factory building that collapsed recently, killing more than a 1,100 workers. Activists plan to rally outside the Four Seasons penthouse of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who also sits on the board of Walmart. Activists will show up to ask Mayer, then Gap, to sign onto a building safety agreement that would prevent future tragedies of this scale. Actions followed by a 6pm gathering at Bayanihan Community Center, 1010 Mission, SF. Dialogue on LGBT-inclusive comprehensive immigration reform SF Public Library, 100 Larkin, SF. 5:30-7:30pm, free. The SF Human Rights Commission will host this community conversation on LGBT-inclusive comprehensive Immigration Reform, cosponsored by the Human Rights Commission LGBT Advisory Committee, Our Family Coalition, and Out4Immigration.


San Francisco Green Film Festival Various SF and East Bay locations, Thu/30 thru Wed/5. General admission $12/$11; Festival passes $100–$200. View 50 new films from around the globe, with over 70 visiting filmmakers and guest speakers, on topics ranging from clean energy, to water, to trash, to art in the environment. Events take place at the New People Cinema in Japantown, the SF Public Library, SPUR Urban Center and the David Brower Center in Berkeley.


Moana Nui 2013 two-day teach-in Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School Auditorium, 1781 Rose, Berk. 10am on Sat/1 to 6pm on Sun/2, $10–$20. The International Forum on Globalization and Pua Mohala I Ka Po present this two-day, international gathering featuring 45 speakers from 20 nations. All will present on critical issues facing the Asia-Pacific region, ranging from environment, to militarism, to global trade and resource depletion. Participants include Jerry Mander (dubbed as the "Ralph Nader of the anti-globalization movement" by the New York Times); indigenous actress Q’orianka Kilcher; Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute, and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, one of the original drafters of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, among others.


Conference on public banking Dominican University, San Rafael. 1pm on Sun/2 to 6:30pm on Tue/4, $35 to $295. Join the Public Banking Institute in conversation with pioneering policymakers, civic leaders, banking entrepreneurs, innovators and ordinary citizens interested in learning about one of the most critical undertakings of our time: creating a truly prosperous, democratic and sustainable new economy. Attend the conference or just catch the Sun/2, 7pm forum, titled Take Our Economy Back from Wall Street, with Rolling Stone staff writer Matt Taibbi, Web of Debt author Ellen Brown, and guests Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of Icelandic Parliament, and Gar Alperovitz, author of What Then Must We Do?

San Francisco Green Film Festival


The San Francisco Green Film Festival returns for a week-long event May 30 through June 5, with 50 new films from around the globe on environmental topics including clean energy, food, water, housing and art in the environment.

It opens with Rebels with a Cause, the new award-winning documentary from local filmmakers Nancy Kelly and Kenji Yamamoto, celebrating the compelling and epic story of those who fought to save the Marin County coast.

Other Festival highlights include the SF Premiere of Mark Decena’s Watershed with special guest Jamie Redford in attendance and La Source, which follows the story of a Haitian Princeton janitor who returns home after the 2010 earthquake to bring clean water to his village. Filmmaker Patrick Shen will be in attendance for Q&A after the show.

In the USA premiere of Because I Live Longer than You, we meet 9-year-old Felix Finkbeiner, who inspired youth to plant one million trees in each country.

Also, in Big Boys are Bananas!, filmmaker and muckraker Fredrik Gertten takes on the Dole Food Company in 2009 and has since experienced the PR and legal battles that inevitably followed. A discussion on media censorship follows the screening.

Tickets are $12 per screening, $100 for a weekend pass, and $200 for a full pass to the festival. Or, buy a six-pack and get six regularly priced tickets for the price of 5!

For more information please visit


Brown raids cap-and-trade funds, delaying action on climate change


Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise to dangerous levels, but still our political leaders delay taking meaningful actions to address the looming crisis. The latest example: Gov. Jerry Brown is borrowing $500 million from the state’s new cap-and-trade program — money designated specifically for efforts to address climate change — to help balance the revised state budget proposal that he released today.

And the worst part was that Brown is raiding these funds even though there was no good reason to do so. “The Governor’s Budget reflected California’s most stable fiscal footing in well over a decade,” was the first sentence in the budget document, which admirably begins to restore education funding, partly because voters approved the Prop. 30 tax package last year.

While Brown said that the $500 million raid is just a loan that will be paid back with interest, the action highlights the short-term thinking that animates our political and business leaders, who seem content with hollow gestures and symbolic actions that fall far short of what’s actually needed to minimize climate change and sea level rise (even the cap-and-trade system itself is a business-friendly half-measure; simply capping then decreasing emmissions would have been far more effective).

There are a multitude of immediate needs for that “borrowed” money that would have big impacts to the carbon emmissions that our state continues to spew into the atmosphere, such as helping Muni and other urban transit systems overcome budget deficits that hamper their ability to provide good alternatives to private automobile use, which is one of the top sources of greenhouse gas emmissions.  

Environmentalists and advocates for social and economic justice — who have fought to direct some of these funds to reducing emmissions in low-income communities, where it is an acute public health issue on top of the long-term climate change threat — immediately criticized the governor’s move.

“The governor is playing a dangerous game that could wreck California’s push toward clean energy,” Greenlining Institute Legal Counsel Ryan Young said in a press release. “Voters of color turned out in force to protect AB 32, the clean energy law, when it was under attack by Prop. 23 [last year’s effort to repeal it], and they did it based on the promise that it would bring clean energy investments to polluted and struggling communities. These are the same voters who provided Jerry Brown’s victory margin when he ran for governor. Seizing these funds for other uses will hurt our state’s neediest communities, and it’s simply not necessary.”

Longtime Sierra Club legislative director Bill Magavern, who works with the Coalition for Clean Air, told Capital Weekly that the money is urgently needed for a variety of programs to reduce pollution in communities of color: “These important goals are now shunted aside as broken promises. The Governor has spoken of the urgency of addressing our climate crisis, but he has not put his money where his mouth is. It’s important to remember that none of the dollars in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund come from taxes, and they were never intended to go to the General Fund.”

Another gauge is also telling: how do the polluters feel about the governor’s new budget? Well, here’s another press release we got on the governor’s new budget, from a conservative business organization that has long opposed meaningful efforts to address climate change: “California Manufacturers & Technology Association president Jack Stewart made the following media statement after Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed ‘May Revise’ budget: ‘We congratulate Gov. Jerry Brown on a proposed balanced budget that will help California provide important government services. We appreciate that the Governor proposes the addition of a statewide sales tax exemption on the purchase of manufacturing equipment.  This will make California a more competitive place to scale up production.”

Same as it ever was.

Why labor should oppose the pipeline


OPINION As pressure from the fossil-fuel industry, conservative Canadian and US politicians, and some construction unions mounts on President Obama to greenlight the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project, a growing coalition has a different message.

On February 17, tens of thousands rallied against the pipeline in cities across the US, including San Francisco — a testament to the climate movement, ranchers and farmers, First Nations leaders, most Canadian unions, some US unions (including my nurses’ organization), transport and domestic workers, and young people who are rightfully alarmed over the global impact of Keystone XL.

For nurses, who already see patients sickened by the adverse effects of pollution and infectious diseases linked to air pollutants and the spread of water and food borne pathogens associated with environmental contaminants, Keystone XL presents a clear and present danger.

First, extracting tar sands is more complex than conventional oil drilling, requiring vast amounts of water and chemicals. The discharge accumulates in highly toxic waste ponds and risks entering water sources that may end up in drinking water, as is already occurring.

Second, the corrosive liquefied bitumen form of crude the pipeline would carry is especially susceptible to leaks that can spill into farmland, water aquifers and rivers on route, threatening an array of adverse health outcomes.

Public health costs from fossil-fuel production in the US through contaminants in our air, rivers, lakes, oceans, and food supply are already pegged at more than $120 billion every year by the National Academy of Sciences. The Environmental Protection Agency warns that exposure to particulate matter emitted from fossil fuel plants is a cause of heart attacks, long term respiratory illness including asthma, cancer, developmental delays and reproductive problems. Global-warming inducted higher air temperatures can also increase bacteria-related food poisoning, such as salmonella, and animal-borne diseases like the West Nile virus.

That’s just the tip of the melting iceberg given the planet altering consequences of rising sea levels, intensified weather events including droughts, floods and super storms already in evidence, and mass dislocation of coastal populations and starvation that may well follow our failing to stem climate change.

Far more jobs would be created by converting to a green economy. As economist Robert Pollin put it in his book Back to Full Employment, every $1 million spent on renewable clean energy sources creates 16.8 jobs, compared to just 5.2 jobs created by the same spending on fossil-fuel production.

And, as one person acerbically commented on a recent New York Times article, there are no jobs on a dead planet.

Further, stumping for the pipeline puts labor in league with the many of the most anti-union, far right corporate interests in the U.S., such as the oil billionaire Koch Brothers and energy corporations, abetted by the politicians who carry their agenda.

The future for labor should not be scrambling for elusive crumbs thrown down by corporate partners, but advocating for the larger public interest, as unions practiced in the 1930s and 1940s, the period of labor’s greatest growth and the resulting emergence of a more egalitarian society.

Deborah Burger is a registered nurse and co-president of National Nurses United, the nation’s largest organization of nurses.

Sharing the sun


Dan Rosen, the co-founder of Solar Mosaic, told us there was an ironic note to the devastation that Hurricane Sandy recently brought to New York City. The same power grid that helps create such fierce hurricanes through the burning of fossil fuels was unable to distribute power to thousands of homes, in mostly low-income neighborhoods, for weeks in the wake of storm.

Sandy brought to the forefront a huge energy challenge: how to move over to renewable energy fast enough to avoid catastrophic climate change and the killer storms in generates, build more efficient and reliable grids, and ensure that everyone can equitably participate in the new renewable energy economy. Bay Area energy entrepreneurs such as Rosen are working on innovative energy models that address those issues.

So far, the solar debate has mostly been between proponents of personal solar projects such as residential rooftop installations, also known as distributed generation, and those who back industrial-scale projects in far away plains and deserts.

But Rosen and other entrepreneurs are championing a middle route: They propose vastly increasing the prevalence of large solar power arrays and other renewable power plants close to where the energy is consumed, and opening up creative new ways for more people to buy into those projects.

This kind of approach to energy has the potential to democratize power production, avoid costly and environmentally unsound transmissions lines, and prevent utilities from monopolizing renewable energy.



One of the barriers to the proliferation of solar is the relatively high upfront cost of purchasing and installing the panels. But with the rising costs of fossil fuel and the government incentives around renewable energy, investments in solar infrastructure can pay off big.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance crunched the numbers and according to a report that came out in June, large solar projects may soon pay a 5-9 percent return on investment. Big financial institutions and other corporate players have taken note of these figures and potential for profit they represent.

For example, Google has invested almost $1 billion in renewable energy that it plans to sell into the grid, including opening a $75 million fund for residential rooftop solar this past September. The problem is that big lenders are only looking for large-scale solar deals in order to cover their costs.

Enter Rosen and Solar Mosaic, who are coming up with a way to harness the power of crowds to fund the local and decentralized projects that big financial institutions tend to overlook. Solar Mosaic specializes in raising seed capital for solar projects by collecting many small investments into one pool.

That idea won Solar Mosaic a $2 million grant from the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, and attracted $3.5 million in venture capital.

“Our job — not just as Mosaic, but as society — is to make sure that the next energy economy has participation and ownership from millions of people and communities around the world,” Rosen said. “Crowd funding is really the beginning of a broader movement to democratize and distribute capital — enabling people to invest in projects they otherwise wouldn’t have had access to.”

This vision proved itself initially with a successful Kickstarter-like crowd funding platform that facilitated the development of five solar projects with the participation of more than 400 small investors and over $350,000 raised. The money went to fund solar panel installations on the roofs of community organizations in California and Arizona, including People’s Grocery in Oakland.

But there’s a catch. As the law currently stands, Solar Mosaic, or any company engaged in crowd funding, cannot offer any interest on the money invested by small online contributors. Since there is only a limited pool of people who believe in an energy revolution enough to shell out money for free, these examples are not entirely replicable. “We chose to start with those ones because they have very strong constituencies and we were using more a philanthropic model,” Rosen said.

The new model the company is developing is “getting people who are not necessarily just environmentalists invested in the clean energy economy,” Rosen said. “I want people who are like, ‘Oh, cool, I can make [a decent return] if I invest in this,’ and that gets more stakeholders than Sierra Club members. Let’s have millions of stakeholders with skin in the game.”

So how to move forward? The controversial federal Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act passed in April by Congress included a much-trumpeted crowd funding provision. The bill charged the Securities and Exchange Commission with the responsibility of putting meat on the legislation’s skeleton.

The SEC has until the Dec. 31 deadline to come up a set of rules allowing start-ups to gather small investments from ordinary people online while still offering provisions to protect the public from fraud. Many are skeptical that the SEC will complete the rule-writing process by the end of year.

Impatient to wait for the SEC and unsure whether the provisions will be practical for their purposes, Solar Mosaic is following a different path. It is using the funds raised already to pay for a lengthy and expensive filing with the SEC to upgrade its financial status.

Rosen said he couldn’t discuss details, but he said the new status should grant Solar Mosaic some leeway on offering financial returns to a wider variety of investors.



Investment opportunities in local solar projects may be a good way to get people financially involved in clean energy but what about Californians who simply wish to purchase renewable energy for their homes or business?

California leads the country in rooftop solar installation, much to the credit of two programs: rebates that offset the cost of the panels through the California Solar Initiative and a program that allows those who own a rooftop with solar panels to offset their utility bills with credit from the energy they produce. California Public Utilities Commission statistics indicate these programs are largely responsible for some 1,379 megawatts of solar that have been installed in California at 131,874 different sites; about as much energy as one large nuclear reactor.

There has been record growth in adoption of solar by homeowners in the past two years, according to the CPUC, including a 364 percent jump in low income areas in since 2007. Yet that’s a far shot from the goal of 12,000 megawatts of local clean energy by 2020 called for by Gov. Jerry Brown in July.

Californians who do not have savings or a high credit score or who have shaded roofs usually can’t participate in the state’s renewable energy programs. But the most significant obstacle to increased participation is that only homeowners are eligible, while renters must contend with whatever power they can get from their utility. In a city like San Francisco, where almost two-third of residents rents, that is the overwhelming majority of citizens.

One solution that would circumvent the property-owning restrictions is allowing people to subscribe to solar gardens and other renewable energy facilities in their area and receive the same credit on their utility bill for their share of energy delivered to the grid. Decoupling where energy is made from who is able to buy it “allows everyone to participate, it makes it so it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, the only thing that matters that you have a utility bill,” said Tom Price of CleanPath, a solar project investment firm.

California Senate Bill 843, introduced by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) and coauthored by Price, attempted to create the legal framework for this kind of virtual transaction. Over the summer, it died in the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce as result of late session lobbying by Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison. Notably, the state’s other largest utility, San Diego Gas and Electric, supported SB843. Also supporting the bill was a wide and diverse coalition ranging from the US Department of Defense to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Wolk plans to reintroduce SB843 in the next legislative session.

Price and other supporters see the bill’s eventual passage as inevitability: “In an age when so many transaction are virtual [and] we can put so many parts of our lives in the cloud, why can’t we put energy in the cloud and let people virtually subscribe to it? From the grid’s perspective, there is no difference.”



Democratizing the green energy industry is about allowing everyone to participate easily, but it is also about empowering those who are typically left out of the conversation.

Low-income and marginalized communities are often the ones most impacted by the environmental and health effects of burning fossils fuels. As the green energy revolution expands, those same communities will potentially be last in line to benefit from or exert influence over the transformation.

Considering that solar can be small scale and still financially sound in the long term, “there is an opportunity to rebuild the energy infrastructure…from the grassroots,” said Shiva Patel who co-founded Energy Solidarity Cooperative. Patel and his partner Dave Ron want to set up multi-stakeholder cooperatives that promote ownership and decision-making by consumers.

In a low-income neighborhood, residents are most likely tenants with little leverage and no eligibility for California’s renewable energy incentives. The cooperative model suggests residents can pool space, financial resources, and labor to become players in small-scale power production.

Normally, consumers considered downstream along the energy supply chain do not have the financial or political means to make decisions about the energy their communities use. “We are flipping that on its head,” said Ron “We want those people to be upstream. We are taking a very horizontal approach.

The nuts and bolts of the coop’s structure may be new, but the distinction between those who own and control the community power project and those who finance it is important. There are three types of members in the cooperative: consumers, workers, and community investors. The consumers initiate the community power project and then maintain ownership of it. They contribute labor and money toward the project according to their ability. The workers are a group of energy experts organized into a collective that provide support and advice for the project. Decisions about the coop and its projects are left to the consumers and workers. Community investors are drawn to the project by crowd funding, but financial support does not buy them a decision making role. Once the upfront costs of the project are paid back to the community investors, consumers can keep the revenue or use it to foster more community power projects.

One source of inspiration for the duo is Co-op Power based in Boston, which has more than 150 full-time green jobs with living wages, spawning 10 businesses in the decade since its founding.

“We had a large number of people trying to solve the puzzle of how communities could come together and create sustainable energy models,” said President and CEO Lynn Benander. “It’s the brain child of many people.”

The Mirkarimi vote: Will there be some profiles of courage?


(See the postscript for the Chronicle’s shameful crucifixion coverage of Mirkarimi and a timely, newsworthy oped it refused to run by Mirkarimi’s former girl friend. And how Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders ran the Nieves piece on her blog. Damn good for you, Debra Saunders.)

On Jan. 6, 2011, the Bay Citizen/New York Times broke a major investigative story headlined “Behind-the-Scenes Power Politics: The Making of Ed Lee.” The story by Gerry Shih detailed how then Mayor Gavin Newsom, ex-Mayor Willie Brown, and his longtime political ally Rose Pak orchestrated an “extraordinary political power play” to make Ed Lee the interim mayor to replace Newsom, the lieutenant governor-elect.

The story also outlined the start of a chain of events that leads to the vote by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday on whether Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi keeps his job.

Shih reported that “word had trickled out” that the supervisors had narrowed the list of interim candidates to three—then Sheriff Michael Hennessey, former Mayor Art Agnos, and Aaron Peskin, then chairman of the city’s Democratic party.  But the contenders “were deemed too liberal by Pak, Brown, and Newsom, who are more moderate.”

Over the next 48 hours, Pak, Brown, and the Newsom administration put together the play, “forging a consensus on the Board of Supervisors, outflanking the board’s progressive wing and persuading Lee to agree to become San Francisco’s first Asian-American mayor, even though he had told officials for months that he had no interest in the job,” Shih wrote.

The play was sold on the argument that Lee would be an “interim mayor” and that he would not run for mayor in the November election. The Guardian and others said at the time that the play most likely envisioned Lee saying, or lying, that he would not run for mayor and then, at the last minute, he would run and overpower the challengers as an incumbent with big downtown money behind him.  This is what happened. That is how Ed Lee, a longtime civil servant, became the mayor and that is how the Willie Brown/Rose Pak gang won the day for the PG&E/Chamber of Commerce/big developer bloc and thwarted the progressives.

Let us note that the other three interim candidates would most likely never have done what Lee did and suspend Mirkarimi for pleading guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment in an arm-bruising incident with his wife Eliana. In fact, Hennessey supported Mirkarimi during the election and still does and says he is fit to do the job of sheriff. 

This was a political coup d’etat worthy of Abe Ruef, the City Hall fixer at the start of the century. “This was something incredibly orchestrated, and we got played,” Sup. John Avalos told Shih. Sup. Chris Daly was mad as hell and he voted for Rose Pak because, he told the Guardian, she was running everything in City Hall anyway. Significantly, the San Francisco Chronicle missed the story and ever after followed the line of its columnist/PG&E lobbyist Willie Brown and Pak by supporting Lee for mayor without much question or properly reporting the obvious power structure angles and plays.

This is the context for understanding a critical part of the ferocity of the opposition to Mirkarimi. As the city’s top elected progressive, he was a politician and force to be reckoned with. His inaugural address as sheriff  demonstrated his creative vision for the department and that he would ably continue the progressive tradition of Richard Hongisto and Hennessey. That annoyed the conservative law enforcement folks. He could be sheriff for a good long time, keep pushing progressive issues from a safe haven, and be in position to run for mayor when the time came. So he was a dangerous character.  

To take one major example, the  PG&E political establishment and others regard him as Public Enemy No. 1. Among other things, he managed as an unpaid volunteer two initiative campaigns during the Willie Brown era. They were aimed at kicking PG&E out of City Hall, enforcing the public power provisions of the federal Raker Act, and bringing  the city’s cheap Hetch Hetchy public power to its residents and businesses for the first time. (See Guardian stories since 1969 on the PG&E/Raker act scandal.)

He then took the public power issue into City Hall when he became a supervisor and aggressively led the charge for the community choice aggregation (cca) project.  His work was validated in the recent 8-3 supervisorial vote authorizing the city to start up a public power/clean energy program. This is the first real challenge ever to PG&E’s private power monopoly.

Significantly, Willie is now an unregistered $200,000 plus a year lobbyist for PG&E. He writes a column for the San Francisco Chronicle promoting, among other things, his undisclosed clients and allies and whacking Mirkarimi and the progressives and their issues on a regular basis.  And he is always out there, a phone call here, an elbow at a cocktail party there, to push his agenda.   The word is that he’s claiming he has the votes to fire Mirkarimi.

The point is that the same forces that put Lee into office as mayor are in large part the same forces behind what I call the political assassination of Mirkarimi.  And so, when the Mirkarimi incident emerged, there was an inexorable  march to assassination. Maximum resources and pressure from the police on Mirkarimi. And then maximum pressure from the District Attorney. And then maximum pressure from the judicial process (not even allowing  a change of venue for the case after the crucifixion media coverage.)  And then Lee calls Mirkarimi “a wife beater” and suspends him with cruel and unusual punishment: no pay for him, his family, his home, nor legal expenses for him or Eliana for the duration.

And then Lee pushes for maximum pressure from the City Attorney and the Ethics Commission to try Mirkarimi and force the crucial vote before the election to put maximum pressure on the supervisors. Obviously, the vote would be scheduled after the election if this were a fair and just process.

Lee, the man who was sold as consensus builder and unifier, has become a polarizer and punisher on behalf of the boys and girls  in the backroom.  

And so the supervisors are not just voting to fire the sheriff.  Mirkarimi, his wife Eliana, and son Theo, 3, have already paid a terrible price and, to their immense credit, have come back together as a family.

The supervisors got played last time and voted for a coup d’etat to make Lee the mayor, rout the progressives, and keep City Hall safe for Willie Brown and Rose Pak and friends.   This time the stakes are clear: the supervisors are now voting on the political assassination of the city’s top elected progressive and it’s once again aimed at helping keep City Hall safe for PG&E, the Chamber, and big developers.

The question is, will there be some profiles of courage this time around? b3

P.S.1  Julian Davis for District 5 supervisor: “Supes mum on sheriff,” read the Sunday Chronicle head. Nobody would say how he/she would vote. And poor Sup. Sean Elsbernd claimed that he would be “holed all Sunday in his office reading a table full of thick binders of official documents related to the case plus a few that he’s prepared for himself containing some case law.”  (Anybody wonder how he’s going to vote? Let’s have a show of hands.)  

The last time I saw Julian Davis he was holding a “Stand with Ross” sign at a Mirkarimi rally on the City Hall steps. With Davis, there would be no second guessing and hand wringing on how he would vote. That’s the problem now with so many neighborhood supervisors who go down to City Hall and vote with Willie and downtown. Davis would be a smart, dependable progressive vote in the city’s most progressive district (5), and a worthy successor to Matt Gonzalez and Ross Mirkarimi. If Davis were on the board now, I’m sure he would stand with Ross and speak for Ross, no ifs, ands, or buts. And his vote might be decisive.  

P.S. 2 The Chronicle’s  shameful crucifixion of Mirkarimi continues  The Chronicle has refused to run a timely and  newsworthy op ed piece from Evelyn Nieves, Mirkarimi’s former girl friend. She  wrote an op ed piece for the Chronicle four days before the Tuesday vote.  Nieves is an accomplished journalist who for several years was the San Francisco bureau chief for the New York Times.  She told me that she was notified Monday morning that the Chronicle didn’t have room for the op ed in Tuesday’s paper. I sent an email to John Diaz, Chronicle editorial page editor, and asked him why the Chronicle couldn’t run her op ed when the paper could run Willie Brown, the unregistered $200,000 plus PG&E lobbyist who takes regular whacks at Mirkarimi, as a regular featured column in its Sunday paper.  No answer at blogtime.

This morning, I opened up the Chronicle to find that the paper, instead of running the Nieves piece today or earlier,  ran an op ed titled “Vote to remove Mirkarmi,” from Kathy Black, executive director of the Casa de las Madres, the non profit group that advocates against domestic violence. It has been hammering Mirkarimi for months. On the page opposite, the Chron ran yet another lead editorial, urging the supervisors to “Take a Stand” and vote for removal because “San Francisco now needs its leaders to lead.” It was as if Willie was not only directing the Chronicle’s news operation but writing its editorials–and getting paid both by PG&E and the Chronicle.  And so the Chronicle started out with shameful crucifixion coverage of  Mirkarimi and then continued the shameful crucifixion coverage up until today. Read Nieves on Ross.

Well, the honor of the Chronicle was maintained by columnist Debra Saunders, virtually the Chroncle’s lone journalistic supporter of Mirkarmi during his ordeal. Many Chronicle staffers are privately supportive of Ross, embarrassed by Willie’s “journalism,” and critical of the way the Chronicle has covered Mirkarimi. Saunders posted the Nieves column her paper refused to print on her Chronicle blog. Damn good for you, Debra Saunders.