The Rules Committee of the Board of Supervisors voted Monday to forward the appointment of Nora Vargas to the SF Public Utilities Commission, without recommendation. The three supervisors on the committee (Tom Ammiano, Chris Daly, and Bevan Dufty) all expressed concern that Vargas’ lack of experience with local politics and public utilities issues might be a setback should she fill the seat.
Vargas is director of Latino Issues Forum, a statewide nonprofit advocacy group, with offices in Fresno, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. LIF works on healthcare reform, educational issues, and consumer rights for immigrants and Latino populations. Vargas would fill the ratepayer advocate seat on the PUC.
Vargas, when questioned by the Rules Committee, said she felt confident of her ability to act independently of her appointing authority, Mayor Gavin Newsom, and that she would put ratepayers and consumers first. When asked if she’d be able to push back against powerful entities like Pacific Gas and Electric, which takes an active interest in many things the SFPUC control, Vargas cited her experience advocating on behalf of ratepayers at the California Public Utilities Commission.
We know PG&E likes to spread their money and influence throughout the city. In this case, between 2004 and 2006, PG&E has given $150,000 to Latino Issues Forum, as part of their community grantmaking.
This is the same kind of giving that would presumably end should San Francisco voters approve the Clean Energy Act this November. “We no longer will be contributing to San Francisco’s non-profits and service organizations,” PG&E’s Brandon Hernandez told a June 27 meeting of the Rule Committee, at which they voted to put the Clean Energy Act on the November ballot. The measure calls for San Francisco to move toward 100 percent clean and renewable energy, possibly through public construction and ownership, thus putting PG&E out of business in this city.
Additionally, Guillermo Rodriguez, Jr., former public relations flak for PG&E, is on the board of Latino Issues Forum (along with two other private utility executives.) Rodriguez left PG&E to head the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which also receives lots and lots of PG&E's money on a regular basis.
Vargas’ appointment to the SFPUC is up for approval by the full Board of Supervisors at today’s meeting, along with Newsom’s four other appointments – Ann Moller Caen, FX Crowley, Francesca Vietor, and Dick Sklar. Sklar, at the last PUC meeting, withdrew his candidacy for the seat.