Now what with this power plant, Mayor?

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By Amanda Witherell

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously against Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposal to retrofit Mirant Potrero power plant at their Nov. 25 meeting.

Everyone’s been calling this political theatre, as the legislation was originally tabled, then dragged off the table at the last moment by Sup. Aaron Peskin. At the Board’s Nov. 18 meeting Peskin and Sup. Sean Elsbernd rattled sabers over whether or not tabling equaled death to the legislation and all it contains. The supervisors agreed with Peskin to take it off the table and vote it down properly, in a 7-4 vote (sans Elsbernd, Carmen Chu, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Chris Daly, who, in an aside to the press box, said he voted ‘no’ on everything related to the power plant. “If I keep voting 'no' there will be no power plant.”)

Anyway, the big, bad ‘no’ vote happened yesterday. But that doesn’t mean the issue is dead as the Mayor will still need board approval for a contract or any kind of deal with Mirant.

The other political undercurrent is the mayor’s introducing of the legislation in the first place. If you read the actual language [PDF], it would have given him, his staff, and the SFPUC sole authority to negotiate a retrofit with Mirant. If it had passed it would have essentially given the mayor pre-approval for what ever crackpot plan they come.

And, as Peskin and Maxwell uncovered in committee hearings on the issue, retrofitting Mirant is pretty crackpot. It’s something that’s never been done to any similar power plant and may actually be technologically impossible.

So. they moved the Mayor’s legislation forward in order to forcefully kill it. It was Alioto-Pier who called for tabling it. The board went along with the idea, thinking that tabling is effectively killing legislation. but, as Maxwell said yesterday at the hearing, "Originally on this item, I asked for a no vote. Sup. Alioto-Pier asked for a table, and it was tabled. This is just an assurance that no is no. This is not about the Mayor. I'm voting no on this issue, not the Mayor."

The other day I spoke with Elsbernd about a different issue, but he mentioned the tabling thing and told me, “You can only pull it off the table the week after it’s been tabled.”

Mary Red, clerk for the Rules Committee, told me this is true, but also said tabled legislation can be brought back for up to 12 months -- but if more than a week lapses after the tabling, then it has to go back to committee and all the way through the legislative process again.

This is really a minor legislative distinction and its very likely we’ll see a new proposal to retrofit Mirant at some point, but there is a certain kind of message that gets out there when a piece of controversial legislation gets voted down unanimously. For example, the SF Chronicle headline on the story reads, “S.F. supervisors kill mayor's power plant plan.”

Sounds like a done deal, right?