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Mailbag: Telling 'the truth on Prop 16'

June 05, 2010

Pacific Gas and Electric, the largest private electric provider in the U.S., has somehow been allowed to use $46 million collected from its customers to put Proposition 16 on the June ballot.

PG&E is the dominant backer of Proposition 16 with a single goal: killing competition from the public sector. Proposition 16 is designed to prevent new communities from choosing public power and stop the expansion of existing municipal utilities. It would change the California Constitution to require a supermajority vote for any company except PG&E.

Despite the slick, expensive and deceptive ads about the taxpayer's right to vote, Proposition 16 has nothing to do with taxes or voting rights. In fact, its goal is to alter existing voting rights and limit the people's choice of what provides their electric service.

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With Proposition 16, PG&E is seeking to change the state constitution so it can avoid competition by nonprofit municipal utilities that provide consumers with lower electric rates. PG&E Chief Executive Peter Darbee admitted as much during a Wall Street investor conference this spring.

So, if Proposition 16 is not about voting rights or taxes, what is it about? And why is PG&E spending so lavishly to pass it?

What PG&E hopes to do with Proposition 16 is provide constitutional protection for the narrow interests of a private company that ranks among the highest in terms of electric rates and lowest in service in the state. The state constitution is meant to protect the rights of citizens, not individual corporations.

Passing Proposition 16 would cause more immediate damage to California's economy than simply higher electric rates. A serious drafting error in the "grandfather clause" would wreak havoc in the real-estate markets and business environments of the 48 communities presently served by municipal electric utilities.

That means that in each area of the state with public power — including Los Angeles, Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, Sacramento and several dozen others — every new customer account would be subject to the election with a two-thirds majority requirement!

Proposition 16 also takes away the yardstick to measure public versus private utilities' performance. The nonprofit utilities Proposition 16 attempts to eliminate offering an alternative approach to providing electric service and servicing the community.

Vote NO on Proposition 16.

JOHN GEESMAN AND RON DAVIS

Burbank

Editor's note: Geesman is a former member of the California Energy Commission. Davis is the president of the California Municipal Utilities Assn. and the general manager of Burbank Water and Power.

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