Green City: SF officials are investigating whether PG&E broke the law with these misleading mailers
Several days before Mirkarimi's announcement, the Guardian received confirmation from City Attorney Dennis Herrera that his office is looking into the matter.
The mailer included a link to the Web site CommonSenseSF.com, launched by an entity called the "Coalition for Reliable and Affordable Electricity." A call to Townsend, Raimundo, Besler & Usher, a Sacramento public-relations firm that has worked with PG&E in the past, revealed that this coalition is one of the firm's clients, and that the person handling that client is Bob Pence. The proponent listed on the statewide ballot initiative is Robert Lee Pence — evidently the same person. The Guardian left a message for Pence inquiring who, besides PG&E, the coalition members are (the mailer claims there are 50,000), but he did not return the call. Multiple calls to PG&E were not returned either.
Meanwhile, the Guardian has received a handful of anecdotal reports that when clipboard-wielding signature gatherers were out on the streets circulating a petition in support of the PG&E-backed ballot initiative, people were fed some fishy stories about what the proposed constitutional amendment would actually do.
A voter who lives in Bakersfield contacted the Guardian to say she'd signed the petition because she was told that the ballot initiative would limit PG&E expansion — but she later did some research and found that PG&E was the primary force behind it, so she called the Registrar of Voters to have her name struck from the list.
Mark Toney of the Utility Reform Network told the Guardian that he'd also been misinformed. But as someone familiar with the issue, he knew better. "I ran across signature gatherers in Emeryville. They told me that if I signed the petition, I'd be supporting a two-thirds majority vote to raise PG&E rates," Toney said. "I said, 'Well that's interesting. The language here doesn't say PG&E at all.
John Srebalus of Pasadena wrote in an e-mail that he was also misled by a signature gatherer. After he signed a petition to legalize marijuana, he said the woman with the clipboard flipped a few pages and asked him to sign again, as if in duplicate. But there was a rubber band securing the top half of this second page, hiding the text. When he peeled it back, he found that it was actually PG&E's ballot initiative, which he had already refused to sign once before.
According to a source familiar with the campaign who asked not to be named, the petition was a particularly hard sell for signature gatherers, many of whom stake their entire livelihoods on earning less than $2 per signature. According to this individual, the erratic sales pitches caught on like wildfire because without a compelling hook, it was nearly impossible to convince random passersby to support something that came off as convoluted and wonky. This person said PG&E became alarmed when it caught wind of all the distorted representations and tried to put a stop to them.
Campaign spokesperson Greg Larsen told the Guardian he hadn't heard anything about that, but he did emphasize the importance of the signed document, as opposed to the signature gatherers' pitch. "The hope is that you read what you're signing," he said. "That's really what the issue is — it's what's on this piece of paper." Larsen added that the campaign had submitted 1.1 million signatures, "far in excess of the number of required certified signatures" to have the initiative placed on the ballot.