Statewide energy ballot generating little buzz in Ventura County

But Prop. 16 opponents say “power grab” measure could have negative consequences for cities

By Paul Sisolak 05/27/2010

If there’s one proposition appearing on ballots next month that puts to the test the old adage of having three sides to every story, it could be Proposition 16.

Prop. 16 calls for every local government to require a two-thirds approval from its voting public to establish a Community Choice Aggregator (CCA), in other words, a local energy and electric provider.

Its proponents love the idea because they say it empowers voters against the influence of corporate energy providers. The anti-Prop. 16 side worries that it smacks of special interests, because the measure’s campaign is subsidized almost entirely by Pacific Gas & Electric — the same type of big corporation Prop. 16 aims to weaken — at the price of more than $45 million.

But there’s a third element. Because PG&E doesn’t provide service in Ventura County, there’s been little to no “buzz” generated in this local region where Southern California Edison is the primary electrical provider. Prop. 16, for all intents and purposes, is a Northern California issue.

“It’s not a proposition that affects most of the state,” says Michael Shames, executive director of the Utility Consumers’ Action Network in San Diego.

However, Shames, among others who dislike Prop. 16, cautions that by passing the ballot measure, Ventura County could be adversely affected in the future — especially if companies like PG&E march into town.

“The biggest problem is, it creates a huge problem down the road when more energy choices are available to customers,” he said. “This kind of law would make it exceedingly difficult for those choices to become available to consumers.”

In that respect, Prop. 16 would be a great idea, according to some, if only the two-thirds vote needed to form a CCA, rather than by a simple majority, wasn’t a near impossibility.

PG&E knows this all too well, and is funding the Prop. 16 campaign fully aware that it can’t be stopped, according to Mindy Spratt of The Utility Reform Network (TURN) and the No on 16 campaign.

“This is a hijacking of the initiative process, where one single corporation is trying to purchase constitutional protection for their high rates and monopoly,” she says.

Becky Warren of the Yes on 16 campaign stands firm that Prop. 16’s detractors underestimate the power of voters in both passing the ballot and, later, to form their own CCA providers. According to Warren, of the 320 local ballot measures statewide between 2006 and 2009 which required a two-thirds vote, 173 passed and became law.

“Voters will pass a two-thirds measure when it makes sense to the community,” she said.

Herb Gooch, a political science professor at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, echoed the sentiments of Shames and Spratt.

“I’m not in favor of it because it reduces people’s choices,” Gooch said. “It almost completely ensures a monopoly.”
Gooch senses that because Prop. 16 doesn’t directly affect Ventura County in any immediate way, it may not pass at local polls.

“It will probably be passed over on the ballot,” he said. “It just hasn’t made as big of an imprint here.”   

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A spontaneous groundswell against Prop. 16 appears to be erupting within the Southern California target audience. In recent days, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, the Orange County Association of Realtors, the South Orange County Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, have all independently -- there being effectively no organized campaign against 16 -- thrown off the trance. They join the earlier apostates at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Riverside Chamber of Commerce.

The significance of these developments lies in their location outside PG&E's service territory. The preposterous claims in the Yes on 16 advertising are the region's only mass exposure to the issue. And the body politic's low-profile autoimmune system may be forcefully rejecting the toxins. (Which is not to slight the opposition just announced by the Napa County Republican Central Committee or the Central Solano Citizen/Taxpayer Group, but their prior exposure to PG&E as customers may have influenced their judgment.)


posted by johngeesman on 5/27/10 @ 09:35 a.m.
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