PG&E's blank check - Page 3

Who is the utility buying off? Start with Newsom, Feinstein, and Willie Brown
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Illustration by Danny Hellman

H has been endorsed by eight of the city's 11 supervisors, Assemblymembers Fiona Ma and Mark Leno, and environmentalist and author Bill McKibben. Groups with a variety of different interests, like the League of Conservation Voters, the SF Democratic Party, SEIU 1021, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, and the Senior Action Network also have given it a green light.

"I think the coalition for it is a much broader coalition than has been for it in the past," said Susan Leal, former head of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, who supports Prop. H. "Because of that, PG&E has ramped up the campaign and put a lot more money into it than in the past."

Mirkarimi, who authored the measure, called the early phone banking, mailers, and door knocking a "signature blitzkrieg campaign," similar to what he witnessed as the manager of the 2001 public power measure that also raised PG&E's ire — and which lost by about 500 votes. "That's why PG&E is working so hard now. We were so close in 2001."

John Rizzo of the Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club said his group has already committed money and people to walk districts. But he noted that he has already seen Committee to Stop the Blank Check signs posted in windows on the west side of the city. "We expected it," he said of the resources PG&E has spent to date. "The only thing they have is money."

Rizzo said the Sierra Club has endorsed past public power measures and considers this an environmental issue. "We are finding it's a pretty broad coalition of folks who might not be together on an environmental issue. The San Francisco Women's Political Committee PAC just recommended endorsing it to their membership, and that's not normally an environmental group — though they are a good group."

Leal says the Clean Energy Act really transcends arguments against public power. "I'm mystified why people would not be on board for something that's cleaner and cheaper," said Leal. "I think I know why a number of others have gotten on board. They recognize that this is the path to clean energy for power."

Jaye wouldn't assign a specific dollar amount to how much the company is willing to spend to defeat the measure — but he made it clear that there are no limits: "It could take $1 million, it could take $5 million." In 2006, when public power was on the ballot in Yolo County, PG&E spent almost $10 million keeping the 77,000 customers they would have lost to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. The measure lost by one percentage point.

Jaye, who also manages Newsom's gubernatorial campaign, is quick to point out that the committee has already received 12,000 signed cards of support. Still, he said, they weren't asking for money from these potential campaign donors "because we have significant and sufficient resources pledged from PG&E."