The California Public Utilities Commission held a hearing in San Francisco today to listen to opinions for and against an initiative that would require local governments to obtain the approval of two-thirds of voters before providing a public electricity service program.
Proposition 16, which is on the ballot in the June 8 statewide election, is supported by PG&E, which sent senior vice president Nancy McFadden to today’s hearing at the CPUC Auditorium on Van Ness Avenue.
McFadden said the company is backing the initiative because it “simply stands for the principle that voters should decide,” rather than city councils or boards of supervisors, whether to opt out of PG&E and other investor-owned utilities and establish local public electricity programs.
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown also spoke in favor of Proposition 16, saying “the business of trying to do infrastructure … requires public participation.”
However, opponents of the initiative said it would have the opposite effect, stifling the democratic process rather than making it more transparent.
San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who spoke at the meeting as well as a rally held beforehand by opponents of Proposition 16, said PG&E is “not just trying to go around democracy, but trying to take democracy on and then subvert it.”
Mirkarimi said the purpose of the initiative is to “kill all competition” between PG&E and publicly owned utilities, as well as “making it so the state Constitution will basically have a place for PG&E in it.”
Mirkarimi is one of the San Francisco city officials working on CleanPowerSF, a community choice aggregation program that would give the city the authority to purchase their own electric supply rather than depend on the sources selected by PG&E or other private companies.
Shawn Marshall, vice chair of the Marin Energy Authority, said “this is the worst kind of ballot box abuse I’ve seen in years.”
Marshall is part of a group of Marin County cities and towns that in December 2008 established the MEA, another community choice aggregation program similar to the one being proposed by San Francisco. Service could begin in the MEA’s eight partner cities as soon as May 7, she said.
Marshall said among the weaknesses of the initiative was its requirement of a two-thirds vote by the local communities, since “we don’t have to look further than the state Legislature to see problems” with needing that level of approval.
State budget proposals have frequently been tied up in the Legislature in recent years, with many experts blaming the two-thirds rule for the stalemates.
No action was taken by the commission at today’s meeting. The CPUC has yet to officially endorse or oppose the initiative, but commission President Michael Peevey, one of three commissioners at the meeting, said he agreed with one of the opinions of the Proposition 16 opponents.
“Philosophically, I have a problem with a two-thirds vote in any capacity,” Peevey said.
“That means 33 percent plus one is the effective majority.”
The initiative will need just majority approval in the June 8 election to go into law.