February 12, 2003

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Hall Monitor

Gonzalez's flip-flop: Sup. Matt Gonzalez defied requests last week by public power advocates to demand the city be given control over a $16 million state-funded energy-efficiency program.

Rather than push for a resolution that would have put the city on record as opposing Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s control over the program, Gonzalez flip-flopped before the vote and instead presented to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors a resolution supporting putting PG&E in charge of how the money is spent.

The move puts the board in political alignment with Mayor Willie Brown, who is on record as supporting the utility's control over the funds.

The program, which is a partnership between PG&E and the San Francisco Department of the Environment, could be a valuable public-relations tool for the company. "I think that Matt Gonzalez has unwittingly convinced the Board of Supervisors to promote a $16 million anti-public power propaganda campaign," Women's Energy Matters executive director Barbara George said.

Following a Bay Guardian story ("Power Games," 1/22/03) on the subject, Gonzalez drafted a resolution urging that the California Public Utilities Commission allow the city's Department of the Environment to control the program funds. He told us he changed the resolution after consulting with department staff. The new version, which was unanimously approved by the board Feb. 4, urges the CPUC to allow PG&E and the department to work together – but supports the company's sole authority over the funds.

Gonzalez said that when facing a board that is reluctant to support green policy, it is in the best interest of the city to at least have a partnership that may open the door for future green management of funds.

Mark Westlund, a Department of the Environment spokesperson, said the CPUC cannot give "public goods funds" directly to a city department. Since most of the $16 million will be used to fund an eventual shutdown of PG&E's 40-year-old Hunters Point power plant, the department's first priority is to ensure the funds are set aside for San Francisco, he said.

"We want to chose our battles, and it is far more important to us that the city gets [the benefit of] this money than who gets the check," he said.

But George, who has been a Bay Area energy activist for 20 years, pointed out that there are currently 50 local and state entities (including nonprofits, counties, small businesses, and even cities including Oakland and Stockton) running programs with public goods funding from the CPUC. (CPUC spokesperson Sheri Inouye confirmed that cities are eligible for public goods funds.) George said it is preferable for an entity other than PG&E, which has a direct conflict of interest when it comes to energy-efficiency programs since it would be entrusted with convincing customers to buy less of the very product it sells, to administer program funds in San Francisco.

"In a city that is interested in public power, we should be fighting over who gets the money," she said. "I think people should be asking the department why they want the money to go to PG&E." For more information contact Women's Energy Matters at (916) 925-7058. Concerned members of the public should call their supervisors to voice complaints and contact CPUC Commissioner Loretta Lynch (who is in charge of energy-efficiency programs) with comments at (415) 703-2444. (Shadi Rahimi)

Mabel does the math: Newly elected San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Mabel Teng held what she says will be the first of regular press briefings Feb. 7 and announced that she has identified potentially $46 million in new revenues for the city. Considering that San Francisco is facing a $350 million deficit, that's welcome news.

Teng and her crew discovered the potential to haul in more revenue after identifying some 13,000 deed transactions filed with the Assessor's Office but not yet recorded in the computer system. Anytime a piece of property changes hands, the state restrictions on the amount the land can be assessed at are lifted. Teng, who beat longtime assessor Doris Ward in the December runoff, estimates that the 13,000 deeds represent about $25 million in new revenues.

In addition, Teng also found some 8,000 building permits for new construction that have yet to be recorded. (Some have been sitting around for as long as two and a half years.) Processing those permits could translate into an additional $21 million. Teng guesses it will take her office at least six months to get the backlog cleared. But she said the city may need to spend a little more to get the millions in potential revenues. So she's asked the mayor and the supervisors for an additional $280,000 to pay for hiring four new appraisers. "The sooner we bring in the appraisers, the sooner the city will start realizing the money," she said. As for what created the backlog?

"I assume the previous administration was lax in clearing this work on a daily basis," she said. (Savannah Blackwell)