New appointees coming to a PUC near you

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Mayor Gavin Newsom has made his recommendations for the five seats on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, up for grabs after voters passed Prop E in June. His choices reflect a little out with the old, in with the new, but he’s also passed up a commissioner he appointed just a year ago and selected a veteran member who barely squeaked through the last approval process.

So, who has Newsom picked?

Well, we’re looking at three incumbents – the current president Ann Moller Caen. movie union rep F.X. Crowley, and the perennially contentious Dick Sklar.

New to the list, we have Nora Vargas, executive director of the Latino Issues Forum, and Francesca Vietor, former head of the SF Department of the Environment.

Ousted: David Hochschild, man of all things solar who was appointed by Newsom just one year ago. Hochschild has been fairly outspoken about moving the city’s Solar Incentive Program forward, which the Mayor was also anxious to see fast tracked. Hochschild, along with Sklar, also raised lots of questions during the peaker power plant approval process, the answers of which ultimately moved both the Mayor and the PUC in an entirely different direction toward favoring retrofitting the elderly Mirant power plant rather than constructing new. Where did he go wrong? No comment from the Mayor’s office of communications when we queried.

E. Dennis Normandy also has not been asked back. He’s the most senior member, originally appointed by Frank Jordan in 1994. Someone, wipe the dust off that chair.

Prop E mandates that public utilities commissioners now meet specific criteria. The criteria, and biographies of Newsom’s selections are as follows:

Seat 1. Member with experience in environmental policy/environmental justice.
Newsom’s pick: Francesca Vietor, She seems something of a “green” goddess about town, and according to a Jane Kay 2001 profile in the Chron, heiress to the Jell-O fortune. I wonder if she's vegan?

According to a bio provided by the Mayor’s Office: "Francesca Vietor has twenty years of experience working for environmental and social change in the United States and internationally. She served as
President of the Environmental Commission for the City and County of San Francisco from 1997-1999 and as Director of the City and County’s Department of the Environment from 1999 to 2001. In 2003, she co-founded 1000 Flowers, a non-partisan NGO dedicated to registering and mobilizing women to vote across the country. She has worked for many nonprofit organizations, including Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, Island Press, and CARE Madagascar. She currently runs an environmental consulting firm, Ecoworks."

Seat 2. Member with experience in ratepayer or consumer advocacy.
Newsom’s pick: Nora Vargas

According to her CV, she runs the Latino Issues Forum, a state wide non-profit public policy and advocacy institute. She leads the organization’s public policy and advocacy programs, advancing Latino-focused policy solutions in the areas of health access, technology and telecommunications, consumer protection, the environment and education.

It also says she was "responsible for developing public utilities strategy for the organization including the areas of energy, telecommunication industry, water and green job initiatives focusing on Latino consumers that are under served and are limited English speakers."

Seat 3. Member with experience in project finance.
Newsom’s pick: Ann Moller Caen

With Normandy gone, if Caen stays she'll be the most senior commissioner. The mayor’s office cited chairmanship of the budget committee as her qualification when it comes to project finance. Other than that, her PUC bio says she runs a business consulting company and is on the board of the SF Symphony, SFMOMA.... and everything else you're supposed to be on the board of if you're retired and rich.

Seat 4. Member with expertise in water systems, power systems, or public utility management.
Newsom’s pick: Dick Sklar

Sklar, former general manager of the PUC, certainly has the expertise to fill the seat. However, his last appointment barely met approval from the BOS, with Sup. Chris Daly throwing his vote to Sklar to the surprise of some progressives. Sklar’s been outspoken on just about everything (if you ever listen to PUC meetings, his is the voice you tend to hear the most). Though Sklar claims he’s an “equal opportunity pain in the ass,” he regularly butts heads with PUC staff and comes off as favoring whatever protects and promotes Pacific Gas and Electric.

Seat 5. At-large member.
Newsom’s pick: F.X. Crowley

One word: random. According to the PUC website, Crowley has “over 20 years of experience in the theatrical and motion picture industry.”

When he’s not pouring over lengthy PUC reports on sewage systems and power plants, Crowley works for the local chapter of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which represents 1,500 theatrical, stage, film, and convention technicians in San Francisco, the North Bay and Peninsula.

While the Mayor still selects commissioners, his choices are now subject to confirmation by a majority of the Board of Supervisors. The current commission will be officially disbanded on July 31. The Rules Committee will meet Monday, July 28 at 8:30 a.m. to hear this issue. If bureaucracy proceeds as scheduled, the full Board could expect to confirm some nominations as early as Tuesday, July 29.