By Nick Diamantides
In a unanimous vote during its May 4 meeting, the Signal Hill City Council adopted a resolution expressing its opposition to Proposition 16, which will appear on the ballot in the statewide June election. “Proposition 16, sponsored by Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG & E) would amend the state constitution to require a two-thirds city electorate vote for a city to replace a privately owned electrical utility with a municipal utility or community-wide clean electricity districts known as Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs),” said City Manager Ken Farfsing.
Farfsing told the council that the proposed initiative was authored, sponsored and funded solely by PG & E as a way of securing a monopoly on electrical power in Central and Northern California in the areas where it now operates. “To date, PG & E has spent nearly $30 million promoting Proposition 16, and it is estimated the company will ultimately spend over $50 million prior to the election in June,” he said. “Existing municipal utilities are concerned about Proposition 16, since they may not be able to seek new power sources without costly public elections that would require two-thirds majorities.” He stressed that such “super majorities” are always difficult to obtain.
“If passed, Proposition 16 would impact the ability of existing publicly owned electric utilities to expand electricity service beyond their current boundaries and existing customer base, including annexation areas,” Farfsing said. “There is also concern that the initiative contains a poorly worded provision that may force existing utility companies to conduct a vote to add a new customer within the utility’s service area. The courts may need to decide the intent of the provision with rate payers picking up the legal expenses.”
Farfsing noted that the required two-thirds vote would make it more difficult for municipalities to form either their own utility companies or CCAs, which are a way of providing more green power than most traditional utilities. “Some cities desire to establish solar arrays, biofuel facilities, and wind farms to diversify their power sources,” he said. “Signal Hill considered forming a CCA based on the impacts of the disastrous state deregulation plan in the late 1990s.”
Farfsing told the council that PG&E is engaged in a deceptive advertising campaign promising the voters that passing Proposition 16 would protect them from risky government decisions to enter the electrical generation business. “The Los Angeles Times reported that in reality the proposition would cement PG&E’s monopoly at the taxpayers’ expense,” he said. “An argument can be made that voters are losing rights, as the state’s constitution would now set a perpetual two-thirds vote requirement for all future attempts to establish public power agencies.”
Before the council voted on the matter, Mayor Ed Wilson said he agreed with Farfsing’s analysis. “It’s something that was underneath the radar, but it would have a huge impact on people’s lives,” he said. “If a company has a monopoly, and citizens don’t have an option, they are going to pay and pay.”
In a separate action, the council unanimously approved a $34,038 contract with CivicPlus, a company based in Manhattan, Kansas. The company will provide website design and hosting for the city beginning sometime next week.
The city’s website has crashed several times since January, and Signal Hill’s most recent website host, Planetwide Hosting and Design, recently announced its plan to go out of business. Deputy City Manager Charlie Honeycutt told the council that CivicPlus will provide the city with a temporary website beginning next week and the company expects to have the permanent website developed and online by September.
The next meeting of the city council is scheduled for 7pm on Tuesday, May 18 in the Council Chamber of Signal Hill City Hall.