PG&E Proposition 16 Update

The Fresno Bee

The mail the other day brought the usual offers for debt relief and loan modifications, along with something new: a slick flier declaring that Proposition 16 would stick up for people sick of government debt. I had a hard time deciding who peddled the biggest scam — the mortgage and credit card debt hustlers, or Pacific Gas & Electric, which is spending $35 million backing Proposition 16.

The utility monopoly is trying to rejigger the state constitution and protect its bottom line against start-up municipal power companies. And it’s using a deceptive advertising campaign for a law that would require two-thirds voter approval before local governments go into the power business or existing PG&E competitors expand their territories.

PG&E says Proposition 16, which is on the June ballot, is about choice, voice and transparency. But the so-called Taxpayers Right to Vote Act is more about limiting consumer choice, preserving monopolies and keeping utility rates high.

In the time since I last wrote about Proposition 16, opponents have been working to overcome PG&E’s deep pockets and cut through the baloney served by company shills. For example, John Geesman, a renewable energy advocate and former member of the California Energy Commission, uncovered the truth behind PG&E’s initiative by wading through the transcript of a company shareholders meeting. Geesman blogged thatPG&E  chief executive officer Peter Darbee told shareholders that the goal was to defeat local power choice once and for all instead of having to continually fend off the specter of customer defection. Darbee also speculated that voters would be receptive to Proposition 16 because of anti-government anger.

Here’s a sampling of what Darbee told shareholders: “And the idea was to diminish, you know, rather than year after year different communities coming in as this or that and putting this up for vote and us having to spend millions and millions of shareholder dollars to defend it repeatedly. “The June time frame looked ideal and in the context of … everything that is happening with government today — the dysfunctionality of it — we concluded that it was a very ideal time. “The result is going to be there’s going to be some flap. It will take place between now and June. And then the voters will have their ability to make their case one way or another. And then, presumably, you know, we’ll mend any broken fences after that.”

It appears that Darbee has been infected by political cynicism. It’s certain that he likes his paycheck. The Wall Street Journal reported that Darbee made $10.6 million last year — more even than the top gun at Goldman Sachs.

What galls me more is that PG&E ratepayers are funding the Proposition 16 campaign. The utility claims otherwise, saying that the $35 million is from a reduction in shareholder dividends. But all dividends are straight out of ratepayer wallets. Former Assembly Speaker and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown is backing Proposition 16. Don’t be fooled. PG&E is a client of Brown’s law firm.

On the other side, the Sierra Club and the California Farm Bureau oppose the proposition.

You might call this marriage the most diverse political pairing since Mary Matalin and James Carville said, “I do.”