June 4, 2020

“No!” on Proposition 16


PG&E has bankrolled Prop 16 with $35 million of rate payers’ money to benefit themselves, not the people.

By now you have probably received the glossy mailers with solar panels and sunflowers, seen the very convincing ads on television, or heard the slick radio spot about the “Taxpayer’s Right to Vote” Act, Proposition 16, which will be on the primary election ballot on June 8.

Funny thing is you will not see that title anywhere on your ballot. The reason? The state’s Attorney General, Jerry Brown, correctly deemed that title so deceptive and misleading that he changed the legal title. What you will see on your ballot is: “New Two-Thirds Voter Approval Requirement for Local Public Electricity Providers.”

Written, placed on the ballot, and bankrolled to the tune of $35 million in ratepayer’s money by Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), Prop 16 imposes a California constitutional amendment for the sole purpose of benefiting a corporate monopoly – PG&E, which has a monopoly in its service territory.

Prop 16 requires a two-thirds supermajority voter approval before any city or group of cities spends any money to explore establishing its own local clean electricity system. Yes, illogical and unfair as it is, voters across the state may be shackled with a two-thirds vote requirement for clean energy by a simple majority on June 8th.

By the way, yes, PG&E is the same giant central and northernCalifornia private electric utility ($1.22 billion in profits in 2009) that poisoned the groundwater of Hinkley, California as depicted in the film “Erin Brockovich.” So the deal is, we are being asked to believe that that corporation cares about our right to vote.

A little background… Every once in a while the California Legislature does something wonderful. That happened back in 2002 when, in the aftermath of the 2000/2001 electricity crisis, they enacted the Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) law, AB117. CCA allows local municipalities and other jurisdictions to “aggregate” electricity customers to form their own electric power purchasing and selling authorities. What this in turn allows, is the ability of the municipality to base its decisions on the kind of electricity it chooses to use on factors other than profitability, like, say, saving the planet.

In the interest of that saving the planet thing, PG&E and other private electric utilities are required by state law to derive 20 percent of their electricity from cleaner renewable sources by 2010. Communities across the state are struggling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to address the global climate crisis. The necessary targets will be impossible to achieve without rapid development of lower CO2 emitting electricity sources.

The passage of Prop 16 would throw a huge wrench in those efforts. The latest data show Southern California Edison to be at about 17.4 percent renewable, while PG&E is only at about 14.4 percent. It’s hard for them to do because of their massive investments in dirty fossil and dangerous nuclear power, and the need to please investors.

Municipalities that break away from PG&E or SCE under the CCA program will be able to meet or beat the target immediately, like Marin County, which is on track to do with its Marin Clean Energy CCA program. Customers of that program will immediately be getting electric power that is derived from 25 percent renewable sources without a rate increase.

It’s a safe bet that if they could, Topangans would choose cleaner renewable energy sources for their electricity like solar and wind. Most Topangans pay SCE for their electricity, and to SCE’s credit, they have chosen not to participate in Prop 16, even though its passage would benefit them.

The reality is that Prop 16 will eliminate any democratic consideration at all of CCA due to the fact that any municipality, seeing the odds (read cash) stacked against them, will realize that it is futile to even make the attempt when PG&E only needs to spend the amount of money it will take to trick one-third of the voters into voting “No” to clean energy. So the vote will never happen. As it stands, multiple opportunities exist for voters to weigh in when their community explores CCA.

Here’s what Prop 16 is really about —straight from the horse’s…mouth. At a PG&E investor’s conference in New York in early March, PG&E’s $10 million per year CEO Peter Darbee was quoted as saying that Prop 16 is designed to “diminish” the competition from CCAs. So let’s believe him on that point.

There are at least two ways to run a successful business. One is to offer good quality products or services at reasonable prices. The other is to crush the competition. Unfortunately, PG&E has chosen the latter. PG&E wants to purchase a constitutional amendment that will stop local efforts to choose clean, green and affordable energy. This June vote “No” on Prop 16, but don’t stop there. Encourage all of your friends, colleagues and acquaintances to do the same, especially your friends in Southern California outside of Topanga, who are largely unfamiliar with the CCA opportunity and PG&E’s skullduggery.

Woody Hastings co-chairs the Grassroots Working Group to Defeat Prop 16 (stop16.com). He was a Topanga resident from 1983 to 2003 and now lives in Sebastopol, CA. Email him at woodyhastings@gmail.com