Nip it in the bud

Supervisors condemn PG&E ballot measure

GREEN CITY Imagine if San Franciscans had the choice of sending the check for their monthly electricity fees to one of two places. Option A is a massive private utility company, serving up fossil fuel-fired and nuclear-powered energy, presided over by a CEO who got paid nearly $9 million last year. Option B is a publicly-owned program run by local government that offers a substantial percentage of green electricity from sources such as wind, solar, and tidal power. In San Francisco, which one would people be more likely to pick?

The intent behind community choice aggregation (CCA) programs, which in San Francisco is known as Clean Power SF, is to make Option B a reality. If successful, the program would signify not just a major advance on the green front, but a dent in Pacific Gas & Electric Co.'s longstanding monopoly in the Bay Area.

The program development is inching along under the direction of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo). Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who chairs LAFCo, has poured a tremendous amount of time and energy into the city's fledgling CCA program.

So when a proposed state ballot initiative surfaced that threatens to thwart statewide CCA programs before they launch, Mirkarimi came out swinging hard.

Titled the "Taxpayers Right to Vote Act," the proposed initiative would require that any effort to create or fund a CCA program be ratified by two-thirds of the voters. The measure would erect an almost impossibly high barrier to CCA development around the state, effectively snuffing out PG&E's would-be competition and sullying local governments' plans to embrace publicly-owned, cleaner energy alternatives.

Mirkarimi wasted no time in drafting a resolution against the measure and submitting it to the Board of Supervisors, telling his colleagues that the utility's proposal undermines years of effort "to allow municipalities to go ahead and chart their own energy destiny so they don't have to be on the syringe of fossil fuel-driven corporations like PG&E."

He also took issue with the name of the proposal, calling it deceptive and misleading. "The point is that we should not be manipulated by measures such as this, where voters would be required to have a two-thirds vote on something the state Legislature has already allowed us to pursue," Mirkarimi said. "It's our own right, and corporate special interests shouldn't dictate otherwise." The state law that grants local governments the right to pursue community choice aggregation, which was sponsored by then-Sen. Carole Migden, specifically prohibits actions that impede the progress of a CCA.

PG&E's name does not appear anywhere on the ballot-initiative proposal, but a spokesperson for the initiative confirmed that the utility had paid the submission fee. The law firm listed as a contact for the proposal, meanwhile, has been enlisted by PG&E before. And Robert Lee Pence, who is named as the proponent of the initiative, has teamed up with PG&E ally Townsend, Raimundo, Besler and Usher on campaign measures in the past. That Sacramento-based political consulting firm describes its strategic consulting services online with this brazen slogan: "Moving opinions is what we do best."

PG&E did not return calls for comment.

At the June 30 Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisors approved Mirkarimi's resolution on a 10 to 1 vote, with Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier voting no. And while a resolution does little more than create a formal record of the board's position on a matter, Mirkarimi seemed to suggest that it was only the start of a battle mounting against this proposal. "Don't be surprised [if] a number of municipalities align themselves in potential litigation against this," he said.

Sup. David Campos, an attorney who also sits on LAFCo, hinted that the city could enter into litigation on the issue.