Nip it in the bud - Page 2

Supervisors condemn PG&E ballot measure

"I hope the city is carefully looking at legal issues that might be raised by the actions of PG&E," he noted at the June 30 Board meeting. "I think that there are legal protections we need to avail ourselves of, and I hope the City Attorney's Office, working with the Board of Supervisors, can make sure that the city takes all steps that it needs to take to protect its legal rights."

Campos later told the Guardian that he had not yet spoken with the City Attorney's Office about it.

When asked about pursuing legal action, the City Attorney's Office would only say that "we're aware of it, and we're evaluating what we will be doing," according to spokesperson Jack Song.

Barbara Hale, general manager for power at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, told the Guardian, "We have certainly been talking with other cities about the initiative." But Hale added that the agency hadn't taken a formal position yet because it is so early in the process. "It hasn't actually been placed on any ballots yet."

Since the initiative was submitted, public power activists across the state have taken notice. Jeff Shields, general manager of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, has gone toe-to-toe with PG&E on public power issues before. One of the most memorable battles occurred when a political consulting firm hired by PG&E hacked into SSJID's computers in the midst of a tug-of-war over control of the area's electricity infrastructure — only to get caught by the FBI and publicly denounced by PG&E. "Obfuscation is PG&E's middle name," Shields says. "I know there are lots of people looking at this initiative, but I don't know that there's a specific organizational effort against it at this time."

Jerry Jordan, executive director of the Sacramento-based California Municipal Utilities Association — a statewide organization representing 70 public utilities — told the Guardian that CMUA would oppose the initiative. However, "we may wait until it qualifies," Jordan said. The initiative is still in its earliest stages, and the attorney general has yet to certify it as legal to the secretary of state.

Meanwhile, efforts to move forward with the CCA model in other regions are floundering in these tough fiscal times. The San Joaquin Valley Power Authority voted June 25 to temporarily suspend its CCA, an effort in the works for years that had a goal of offering electricity to customers at lower and more stable rates.

Spokeswoman Cristel Tufenkjian said the greatest obstacle was a contract with CitiGroup's energy branch that was marred by tight credit markets. "When things started to go south with the markets, CitiGroup said it could not execute that contract," Tufenkjian explained. She also added, "We are opposed to the initiative."

The SJVPA bid to create a CCA was also hindered by opposition from PG&E. "For the last few years, PG&E has continually placed roadblocks in front of our program in an attempt to stop us from implementing community choice and ultimately not providing residents and businesses the opportunity to have a choice about who will provide them electrical energy," said Ron Manfredi, city manager of Kerman and chair of the San Joaquin Valley Power Authority.

The Board of Supervisors' resolution against the ballot initiative condemns such roadblocks and vows to push through this one. "PG&E has a history of acting to maintain its monopoly in its service region, including opposing public power initiatives at the ballot and lobbying officials of California cities [and] counties against community choice aggregation in apparent violation of the provisions [of state law]," the text of the resolution reads.

As this ballot initiative moves through the approval process, it's clear that a battle is going to heat up very quickly.