Divided county supervisors vote to oppose Proposition 16

A divided county Board of Supervisors formally opposed Proposition 16 on the June 8 primary ballot, arguing that the initiative is anti-democratic and would impede the county’s ongoing efforts to develop alternative energy sources.

Proposition 16 would require two-thirds voter approval for a local government to take over electricity service.

Supervisor Jim Patterson called the initiative “a corporate move to create a monopoly," referring to heavy support for the measure by Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

He said the two-thirds requirement is a virtual death sentence for any local government's plans to take over power service, given the corporate money that would be expected to be spent in efforts to defeat it.

Patterson, who introduced the resolution, was joined by Supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson. The board’s longest-serving supervisor, Katcho Achadjian, voted against the resolution.

He said, “I don’t think the government should get involved in competition with the private sector.”

Achadjian, completing his third and final term as a county supervisor, is running for state Assembly.

Chairman Frank Mecham abstained, saying the initiative is for voters to decide, without nudging from the Board of Supervisors.

“I don’t want this to be the podium where we bring every proposition forward,” Mecham said.

However, Mecham and Achadjian were outnumbered by their colleagues, as well as members of the audience, who argued strongly that requiring a two-thirds vote was “very anti-democratic,” as Martha Goldin of Los Osos put it. Goldin is a former Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, and her husband, Leon, who agreed with her, is a former vice president of the state Bar of California.

Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals, a spokesman for PG&E, said the two-thirds concept already exists, and was used statewide in various local elections 608 times between 2002 and 2008, passing 286 times.

“We trust the public,” Shoals said.

Gibson retorted that if PG&E trusts the public it should require a two-thirds vote of its customers the next time it tries to raise rates.

Hill assailed not only Proposition 16, but what he described as the corruption of the initiative process.

“There’s nothing that’s not cynical or deceptive about this initiative,” he said.

The resolution reads that the two-thirds requirement “creates an opportunity for a small minority to prevent county citizens from receiving the cost savings and environmental benefits of efficient alternative energy production and delivery.”

It calls Proposition 16 “against the public interest, and a potential setback for renewable energy production.”

PG&E is a major economic contributor in San Luis Obispo County, providing 1,200 jobs and bringing in $25 million in annual property taxes.