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Council cheers Prop. 16 loss

Political Landscape

June 12, 2010

Utility officials across Burbank and Glendale breathed a collective sigh of relief Wednesday after voters rebuffed a ballot initiative that would have limited the ability of municipalities to create or expand public power services.

The Glendale City Council was among the first to formally adopt a resolution opposing the proposition.

"Preserving the right of consumers to choose is one of the cornerstones of U.S. consumer protection law," said John Miller, of the Glendale Water & Power Commission. "And keeping that option available for consumers, I think, is a wise action, protecting them from exploitation of providers."

Bankrolled by Pacific Gas & Electric Company, the state's largest electrical utility, the Taxpayers Right to Vote Act was advertised as evenhanded, altruistic and a money-saving measure for ratepayers and the investor-owned utility.

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The company sank more than $46 million into Proposition 16, which would have required cities and counties to secure a two-thirds vote before spending public money to launch or join a public power agency.

The measure would have amended the state Constitution to require all 47 of the state's city-owned utilities to obtain the supermajority in order to expand their boundaries.

PG&E officials maintained that voters statewide should have a say in whether they want public power. They also argued that a vote to approve a utility should call for the same supermajority that cities need to unload an existing municipal power system.

"While the election outcome hasn't diminished our steadfast belief that citizens should have a vote in local government efforts to enter the electric utility business, we respect the decision voters made on this initiative," Greg Pruett, senior vice president of corporate affairs for PG&E, said in a statement.

Opponents of the ballot initiative — namely environmental organizations, consumer groups and city officials — were outspent about 550 to 1, raising just $101,400.

They hailed the 52.5% to 47.5% victory as evidence that the Constitution could not be bought.

"Proposition 16 would have made it problematic to do almost anything, from adding a customer inside our service to adding renewable energy projects outside our service area," said Ron Davis, the general manager at Burbank Water and Power. "The fact that PG&E could do this and come so close to subverting the ballot initiative process ought to scare everyone."

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