Friends don’t let friends vote for Props 16 & 17. (part one)

This June’s initiatives are easy – there are only five, numbered 13 thru 17. And, as your friend, it’s my solemn duty to make sure you vote NO on the last two, 16 and 17.

Short version – they are both corporate scams, the first one brought to you by PG&E, and the other brought to you by Mercury Insurance.

When citizens hear what these measures actually do, and who is behind them, they overwhelmingly fail – EPIC fail. The problem of course is that money is no object to the funders of these measures, and they’re already blanketing our airwaves with shamelessly deceptive characterizations of what the measures would do.

I know, what else is new, right? The struggle never ends. Not until we somehow neutralize the noxious effects of big money in politics. But for now, let’s look at the first one, PG&E’s Proposition 16, see what it really is, and how they’re trying to sell it to us. Diligent students of Orwell, they’re calling it:

Proposition 16, the *cough* “Taxpayers’ Right to *choke* Vote Act”

Let’s begin by examining and analyzing PG&E’s propaganda, which they’re spending $35 million to smother you with. This spot has been blanketing the airwaves. Watch it a couple times and see if you can catch a mention of who is paying for it:

I saw it twice on TV, and grumbled and cursed, not just at all the deceptions, but because it didn’t end with the familiar “Paid for by…” disclosure. My first thought was to blame the Citizens United ruling, but I was wrong. The required disclosure is there, at the bottom of the screen in small print at the very beginning. Nobody sees it because your eyes are distracted by much bigger text flying around in the middle and top of the screen. “But why is there no vocal announcement?” you ask. Turns out the law requires either a vocal statement with four seconds of a visual statement, OR FIVE seconds of a visual statement with no vocals, and they went with the latter. Isn’t legislation wonderful?

But the deception is just beginning – this is what that blurry on-screen announcement says:


In fact, every penny of the funding for this ad and the rest of the campaign comes solely from the deep pockets of PG&E – and unless that company is defining itself somehow as “a coalition of taxpayers, business and labor,” that phrase is complete rubbish – no labor group supports this. (I need to mention that I’m getting a lot of this information from Brian at Calitics, who beat me to analyzing the ad last week.)

Before we proceed any further with this ad, let’s go ahead and note what this measure really is. Local governments can, and many have, opted to create their own electric utilities, and that has usually worked out very well for the consumers, as we’ll see later. PG&E would like to prevent this from happening any more by making it as difficult as possible, guaranteeing itself a monopoly on your electrical service. While the title of the act, and the nice lady on the screen, prattle about our “right to vote,” the fine print tells the real story – a 2/3 supermajority requirement, which is nearly impossible to get. PG&E’s chairman, in an unguarded moment, admitted that the goal is to make it as hard as possible for communities to set up their own utilities. And in his grave, George Orwell nods and smiles, sadly.

Hitting all the right notes for tea-bagging 2010, the nice lady chirps:

It goes by different names, but in the end, it’s really government-run electric service.

This is supposed to fill you with dreadful visions of President Obama and Speaker Pelosi sending a UN team into your back yard to ration your watt usage, and screw things up badly while wasting billions. In fact we are talking about your friendly local government, your city council or Board of Supervisors, whom you see every week and run into on the street, and can vote out every couple of years if you don’t like their decisions. Furthermore, government and municipal utilities have elected boards which are accountable to you the voter – in stark contrast to a corporation like PG&E. One more quick lie from the ad, before we move on:

Under current law, local government can spend unlimited public funds to go into the electricity business, and we don’t even have the right to vote on it.

*Ahem* Nope. Bullshit. Again. Under “current law,” local public agencies cannot put taxpayer resources at risk without a vote of the people.

It comes down to this: PG&E, to preserve a monopoly, wants to make it MUCH harder for you and your fellow citizens to choose an alternative, and they’re doing it under the stunningly hypocritical rubric of letting you have a “right to vote.” Even my right-wing Juice Brother Larry Gilbert, who rarely agrees with me on anything, agrees on this one:

While I support the private sector over municipal competitors I support a fair competitive option over any utility monopoly. As such I recommend a NO vote on Proposition 16.

Left right or center, if after all I’ve told you you still feel like voting yes on Prop 16, well, I’ve done all I can for you as a friend, short of taking away your car keys.

Now, if you want to, we will look at the SECONDARY question of whether a public or municipal utility can be a good thing. Just what is it that PG&E is trying so hard to prevent you from having? Here are some handy points of comparison, culled from Brian:

Private, corporate providers (PG&E, SCE here in the south)

  • Ratepayers and voters have NO say in the high rates and poor service these companies provide.
  • They are accountable only to their management and stockholders, to make them an ever-growing profit.
  • Their CEOs make gigantic bonuses, like Peter Darbee of PG&E’s $10 million this year – paid for by you the ratepayer.
  • PG&E has shelled out $35 million of ratepayer money on this deceptive campaign to limit your choices.

Public or municipal utilities

  • Virtually every municipal or government-run power system in California charge lower rates than PG&E, some by 25% or more.
  • As I’ve mentioned, municipal electric service is accountable to the voters through board elections and consumer choice.
  • The operators do NOT get multi-million dollar bonuses, and cannot spend a dime of your money for political campaigns like this one.

But we Orange County residents don’t have to go far to see what a municipal utility looks like – we have…

Anaheim’s experience

As Anaheim boasts on its website:

Anaheim Public Utilities operates the only municipal electric system in Orange County. That means that the ratepayers of this community own their utility, and therefore, the key decisions concerning its operation can be made right here in Anaheim, in the best interest of our community. Anaheim has a long history of competitive electric rates, and residential rates currently average 25 to 40 percent less than in neighboring cities…

But of course THEY would say that; maybe you’ll take it from another Juice blogger. I just happened to remember Brother Duane Roberts, our resident Green Party Senate candidate, waxing rhapsodic about his home town’s public utilities a few years ago, so at my request he provided this testimonial:

The primary mission of Anaheim Public Utilities is not to maximize the return on investment for shareholders who might not even live in California, but to provide everybody who lives and works within the boundaries of the municipality with a cheap and reliable source of water and electrical power.

Any “profits” that are generated as result of utility operations are directly transferred to the General Fund where the Mayor and the City Council can spend it on things that benefit the community like road maintenance, police and fire protection, parks, libraries, senior centers, and other essential services.

Unlike Southern California Edison, every decision that Anaheim Public Utilities makes is open to intense scrutiny from the community; as a government agency, it must abide by all applicable state laws dealing with competitive bidding, conflicts of interest, and transparency in records and meetings.
This oversight tends to weed out cronyism, favoritism, and self-dealing that plague for-profit utilities but remain undetected because decisions are made secretly and nobody is scrutinized for their actions; the costs of this institutionalized corruption are merely passed on to ratepayers without explanation.

If the persons delegated with the responsibility of running Anaheim Public Utilities are unresponsive to the needs of the community, they can be removed from their position through actions undertaken by both the City Manager and the City Council — something that can’t be done with a private utility.
And this is what PG&E is spending $35 million to prevent you from enjoying.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.