Is LAFCo Getting Ready to Sue PG&E?

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LAFCo Chairman Ross Mirkarimi may not be smiling for long
Lawsuit, anyone? That could be the case, to judge from what took place at the most recent Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) meeting on July 31.

LAFCo is a sort of energy task force controlled by supervisors who advocate municipalizing San Francisco's supply of electricity, a scheme known in local political circles as "public power." At the meeting, the commission's members convened in closed session to confer with a lawyer over "potential litigation" related to a proposed state ballot initiative supported by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The initiative would make it more difficult for cities to take control of their power grids from incumbent providers such as PG&E.

LAFCo Chairman and District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said that any litigation would concern truth-in-advertising issues over how the initiative is titled -- it is currently called the "Taxpayers Right to Vote Act," a moniker Mirkarimi called "very deceptive" -- and campaigned for. Mirkarimi Aide Rick Galbreath said the topic will be broached again in a closed session of the Board of Supervisors' Government Audit and Oversight Committee on Aug. 18. It's unclear at the moment what city agency or board would be the plaintiff in such a lawsuit.

The ballot initiative would require a two-thirds vote, by referendum, for cities that adopt Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs. San Francisco is planning to implement such a program, called Clean Power SF, in coming years. Mirkarimi said this would allow PG&E to bring the battle over public power back onto terrain where they have traditionally had an advantage: the popular referendum. In San Francisco, public-power ballot initiatives have repeatedly failed to gain majority support with voters.

"PG&E's prowess is best demonstrated by the infinite amount of money they spend at the ballot box," Mirkarimi said.

CCA allows cities or counties to automatically enroll all their residents in alternative energy-provider schemes managed by the government, unless customers specifically request to stay with their incumbent provider. An analysis by the city controller's office indicated that San Francisco residents would see the cost of electricity rise 24 percent under a CCA program, although advocates of CCA say it permits a higher mix of renewable energy.

To read the full text of the proposed initiative, click here.

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