By Will Harper
Like a lot of people, I am suspicious whenever a huge corporation like PG&E dumps big money into a campaign. It’s hard to believe that a for-profit utility has the public’s best interests in mind when it spends more than $5 million to defeat a ballot measure. But at least PG&E’s motives for killing Proposition H, the so-called Clean Energy Act, are obvious: Prop. H paves the way for a municipal takeover of PG&E’s electrical system in San Francisco; PG&E is just protecting its investment.
The Prop. H campaign, on the other hand, is not nearly so transparent. In fact, it has been fundamentally dishonest.
Prop. H is the fourth public-power measure to appear on the city’s ballot in the last eight years. (Voters rejected the first three, most recently in 2002.) With the earlier power measures, their intent was always clear: Municipalize PG&E. Prop. H, however, conceals its true objective.
Rather than be straight with voters, the Yes on H campaign has cloaked this latest public power grab in a green-energy fig leaf. (“Vote YES on Proposition H to make San Francisco a world leader in the fight against global warming!”)
But as the Chronicle pointed out last week, the renewable-energy targets laid out in the measure--such as 100 percent clean electricity by 2040--don’t require a charter amendment. The green energy component of Prop. H is just a sneaky way of getting voters to approve a takeover of PG&E and conversion to public power.
Meanwhile, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, the co-sponsor of Prop. H, keeps saying all this measure does is authorize a study to determine the best way for the city to meet its clean energy goals; public power would be just one option such a feasibility study would consider. But you don’t need a vote of the people to authorize a study. Besides, does anyone think a board-hired consultant would conclude that San Francisco consumers would be best served by anything other than a publicly owned utility? Lest we forget, in 2001 a city commission stacked with PG&E-haters hired a public power advocate for $90,000 to do an “objective” study. After hiring the guy, it was discovered he’d been convicted for defrauding the Lassen Municipal Utility District.
The only thing Mirkarimi and his comrades need the voters to sign off on is the bond financing of acquiring PG&E’s distribution system in the city, which the city controller predicts would cost billions of dollars. Currently, if the city wanted to initiate a hostile takeover of PG&E, it would have to get voter-approval to issue revenue bonds to pay for the buyout. But the way Prop. H is written, once the “study” determines public power is the way to go, the board of supervisors can issue those revenue bonds without having to go to the voters.
In various editorials, the Prop. H supporters at the Bay Guardian have made this seem like no big deal. The most blatant distortion appeared in its recent endorsement issue in which executive editor Tim Redmond proclaimed, “Nobody ever votes on revenue bonds. In California, we vote on general obligation bonds, which are backed by taxpayers. Revenue bonds are backed by a defined revenue stream...”
Actually, people do vote on revenue bonds. Seven years ago, San Francisco voters approved Prop. A, which authorized the city to sell $1.63 billion worth of revenue bonds to upgrade the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. The defined revenue stream: San Francisco water users, who saw their rates go up.
I’m not opposed to the idea of public power, but I don’t like being bullshitted. And despite all the Guardian’s ranting about PG&E’s lies this election season, PG&E isn’t the one doing most of the lying in this campaign.