San Francisco today joined a group of other California cities and public utilities in a lawsuit to remove a statewide ballot measure they say misleads voters about its true intentions to doom public power.
Proposition 16, a constitutional amendment on the June 8 statewide ballot, would require a two-thirds majority vote before local jurisdictions could establish a public power program, known as community choice aggregation, to compete with private utilities.
Proponents of the measure, funded by Pacific Gas & Electric Co., call it the “Taxpayers Right to Vote Act,” and claim it will give voters “the final say” on whether to implement “costly and risky government schemes to take over local electric service.”
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera today joined the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission, the cities of Moreno Valley and Redding, the California Municipal Utilities Association, the San Joaquin Valley Power Authority, the Modesto Irrigation District and the Merced Irrigation District in filing a civil complaint calling for the proposition to be taken off the ballot.
The city attorney’s office said the measure, despite its name, has “no bearing on taxation and government spending.”
“Despite what its proponents would have us believe, Prop 16 doesn’t help taxpayers and doesn’t empower voters–in fact, it does the exact opposite,” Herrera said in a prepared statement.
Herrera said the measure would create a “deadlock on California’s energy future.”
San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi added in the statement that the proposition would simply preserve a PG&E monopoly on power.
“This measure asks Californians to surrender the principle of majority rule, and enable PG&E to kill any competing public energy program it wants by winning just over a third of the vote.”
San Francisco’s community choice aggregation program, CleanPowerSF, aims to generate at least half of its electricity from renewable sources for those who choose to be in the program, according to the city attorney’s office.
According to San Francisco Public Utilities Commission General Manager Ed Harrington, CleanPowerSF would offer “more renewable energy at a cost-competitive price.”
“Consumers benefit by having a choice where none currently exists,” Harrington said.
Mirkarimi said the program has already been given preliminary approval through bond measures passed by voters in 2001, and is in the process of being implemented.
Mirkarimi said no one voted to receive service from PG&E, which has been in San Francisco for decades, adding he was “extremely concerned” Proposition 16 could be approved and set a precedent in other states.
“If this passes, consumer and ratepayer rights have literally gone backwards 40 years, in the United States,” Mirkarimi said.
However, campaign spokeswoman Robin Swanson responded to the litigation, saying, “This is exactly why we should pass Prop 16. Politicians would rather spend taxpayer money to go to court, than have a vote of the people on the issue.”
Proposition 16 requires a simple 50-percent majority statewide to pass.
“We’re trusting the voters in this situation, that they’re going to make the right decision,” Swanson said.
The language of the proposition does not make mention of PG&E, which Swanson acknowledged is its major supporter. She also noted that a PG&E official publicly endorsed it Wednesday before a hearing of the California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco.
“I think it’s crystal clear who’s funding this measure,” Swanson said.
Theresa Mueller, a San Francisco deputy city attorney working on the litigation, said the entire measure was disingenuous.
“This isn’t the case of a couple words being misleading,” Mueller said. “This is the case of a corporation using its money to buy a constitutional amendment to protect its monopoly. And all of it’s under the guise of, ‘Oh, it’s protecting the taxpayers.'”
The complaint, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, is expected to be heard in early May, according to Mueller. She said that could still allow sufficient time for changes to the ballot.
“The law allows for challenges like this when the proponents of a ballot measure conceal its true nature and purpose,” Mueller said, though she acknowledged “there is a high standard for removing things from the ballot.”