Divided board opposes Prop. 16

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

Proposition 16 requires two-thirds voter approval for local governments to take over electric service. It has been backed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which has paid for ads that refer to Proposition 16 as the The Taxpayers Right to Vote Act.

Supervisor Jim Patterson, however, said the initiative was, “A corporate move to create a monopoly.” He said the two-thirds requirement is a virtual death sentence for local government proposals to take over electric service, given the corporate money that would be expected to be spent to defeat them.

Patterson, who introduced the resolution, was joined by Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson.

The board’s longest-serving supervisor, Katcho Achadjian, voted against the resolution. “I don’t think the government should get involved in competition with the private sector,” he said. 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 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 County Superior Court judge, and her husband, Leon, who echoed her sentiments, is a former vice president of the State Bar of California.

John Shoals, a spokesman for PG&E who is also the mayor of Grover Beach, 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 states the measure “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 contributer in the local economy, providing 1,200 jobs and bringing in $25 million in annual property taxes.