The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

June 28, 2010
Boxer, Feinstein chime in with praise of Sen. Byrd

California's U.S. senators added their tributes this morning after the passing of Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia -- both for his standing as constitutional expert and his role as influential money broker.

In her statement, Sen. Barbara Boxer pointed out that Byrd, the longtime chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, came to California's aid.

"I will always be grateful for Senator Byrd's strong support for California - especially when our state was suffering through natural disasters - as well as his deep conviction to bring our troops home from Iraq," she said.

"The Senate has lost a giant and America has lost a real fighter for our working families," Boxer added.

"Robert Byrd's eloquence during his amazing tenure in the Senate will forever be a testament to his deep reverence for the Constitution and the importance of preserving the American dream, which he lived.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein called Byrd "one of the true legends" in U.S. political history, while gently alluding to the fact that Byrd once supported racial segregation.

"Senator Byrd, like the nation he represented, changed and evolved over the nine decades of his lifetime," she said in a statement.

"I shall perhaps remember Senator Byrd best for his ardent devotion to and consummate knowledge of the Constitution of the United States. I also had the privilege of serving with him on the Senate Appropriations Committee for many years," Feinstein added.

"This nation owes Senator Byrd a great debt of gratitude for his tremendous service. I know that I will very much miss his indomitable spirit, insightful guidance, and intense commitment to the Senate."

June 24, 2010
Heather Fargo returns to government work

 

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Sacramento's former mayor, Heather Fargo, has a new gig.

She was appointed this month as executive policy officer for California's Strategic Growth Council, a cabinet-level committee created by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008 to coordinate the state's efforts to improve air and water quality, protect agricultural land and increase affordable housing. The council includes the secretaries of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Natural Resources Agency.

Another major duty is to help state and local agencies reach the goals of AB 32, the controversial law to cut the state's carbon emissions. This week, opponents who call the law a "job killer" qualified an initiative for the Nov. 2 ballot that would suspend its implementation.

The job makes sense for Fargo, who as mayor pushed for smart growth that would reduce sprawl and traffic. In 2008, she was vice president of the League of California Cities when it endorsed SB 375, landmark legislation to offer local governments incentives to encourage more compact, transit-oriented development.

As the equivalent of the council's executive director, she will coordinate its activities, including the awarding of grants to local governments under Proposition 84.

Fargo said the council has an "aggressive mission" to protect the environment and, in some ways, is trying to bring statewide the principles embodied in the Sacramento Region Blueprint. "I certainly have always recognized that local governments have a significant role to play on environmental issues," she said today.

First elected mayor in 2000, Fargo lost to Kevin Johnson in 2008 and since had been focusing on consulting and volunteering. She said a friend told her about the opening, and she was intrigued enough to apply.

While the new governor will appoint the council members with hiring and firing power over the position, which she said pays about $93,780 a year, she said she hopes to keep it under the new administration.

"It's a position that certainly uses what I learned as mayor and council member," she said. "It's a job that matters."

June 23, 2010
President Obama sacks his top general in Afghanistan

In the end, President Barack Obama had no choice but to relieve General Stanley McChrystal of command of American forces in Afghanistan.

After meeting privately with the general this morning, Obama announced from the White House that he had accepted McChrystal's resignation with "considerable regret."

Obama said he made the move not out of policy differences or out of "personal insult" from the controversial article in Rolling Stone, where McChrystal and his top aides disparaged Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and others.

Rather, the president said, the conduct shown in article was not becoming for a commander and undermined civilian control of the military chain of command. The Bee's editorial board made that point today in urging Obama to sack McChrystal if it wasn't crystal clear he could follow orders.

To replace McChrystal, Obama nominated General David Petraeus, who is credited with turning around the war in Iraq, with trying to do the same in the increasingly difficult war in Afghanistan. Petraeus had been promoted to head of the Central Command with oversight of both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama pointed out that the war is bigger than any man and that the U.S. is still committed to success in Afghanistan. Now, he is counting on someone else to make that happen. And a decorated general ends his career in disgrace.

 

June 22, 2010
Sen. Boxer tries to cast foe Fiorina as Palin clone

 

Carly Fiorina received a well-timed endorsement from Sarah Palin, shoring up her right flank and helping her win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

Now, Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer is doing her darndest to turn Palin's backing against Fiorina. Boxer is counting on the fact that Palin is far less popular among general election voters than among conservative Republicans.

A web video posted on Boxer's fund-raising website calls Fiorina and Palin "peas in a pod" who are "wrong for California."

The video shows the two Republicans talking against abortion ("They'd both make abortion a crime," it says on screen).

It also shows Fiorina supporting offshore oil drilling and Palin spouting her famous "drill, baby drill ("Even now" after the Gulf disaster).

And it shows them supporting gun rights, including Fiorina saying during a primary debate that people on the "no fly" list shouldn't lose their Second Amendment rights.

The video is timed partly to coincide with Palin's well-publicized speech on Friday at California State University, Stanislaus.

UPDATE: Fiorina's campaign called the video more evidence that Boxer is having to "shore up a base of voters that should already be supporting her," showing how vulnerable she is.

Fiorina's camp goes on to say that it much prefers the endorsement of a "fellow political outsider" like Palin than those of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

June 17, 2010
A trifecta of firsts: World Cup, oil and pensions

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We saw a string of "firsts" on Tuesday.

The most improbable, perhaps: New Zealand, not known as a soccer power, earned its first-ever point in the World Cup. A last-minute goal gave the All Whites a draw against Slovakia on Tuesday.

Winston Reid's header in stoppage time prompted him to take off his shirt and wave it around in celebration (shown in the AFP/Getty Images photo above). He drew a yellow card, but he didn't care, and there was also much exultation back home. The Kiwis can even dream of making it to the second round.

The most intriguing, definitely: President Barack Obama's first speech from the Oval Office on Tuesday evening. For the subject matter, he chose the Gulf oil spill -- an ecological and economic catastrophe for the Gulf states and an increasingly damaging political loser for Obama.

According to most reviews, however, he failed to issue any groundbreaking plan or stirring call to action worthy of the most powerful setting the president has. "Blah" rather than bold, opined Gail Collins of The New York Times.

The most consequential, potentially: The first breakthrough in California pension reform, reached in the wee hours Tuesday and announced Wednesday.

If approved by the rank-and-file and the Legislature, the deal between the Schwarzenegger administration and four unions would only reduce benefits for new hires and save a relatively paltry $72 million in the 2010-11 budget.

More importantly, as The Bee's editorial board pointed out today, it is a significant first step and could set an encouraging precedent for other state and local unions. If similar labor agreements can be hammered out, there could be real savings for taxpayers and real momentum toward common sense on pensions.

June 15, 2010
Pelosi, Issa hear what they want to hear in oil spill speech

Sometimes, it really does seem like the two parties are playing politics in parallel universes in Washington.

Just look at the reaction to President Barack Obama's speech this evening -- the first he has given from the Oval Office -- to try to reassure Americans that he's on the case when it comes to the ever-worsening BP oil gusher in the Gulf.

Vowing that the government will "fight this spill with everything we got," he announced an independently overseen $20 billion escrow fund, financed by BP, to compensate those affected by the oil spill. The oil giant is suspending its dividend to shareholders to help come up with the cash. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat, declared that Obama "demonstrated he is holding BP accountable for the oil spill and the resulting economic and environmental damage. BP and other responsible parties are going to pay the full costs of the cleanup and the damage to the Gulf economy; we will not allow them to leave taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars."

In her statement, she went on to say that the spill is "a harsh reminder of the price we are now paying for the Bush administration and Republican Congress placing the employees of Big Oil in charge of regulating their own industry" and that it should lead to a new energy policy that reduces carbon emissions and boosts alternative energy.

But Representative Darrell Issa, a San Diego Republican, responded to Obama's speech by bashing the moratorium on more offshore oil drilling.

"Conspicuously absent from the president's address was a plan detailing what to do to replace and retain the tens-of-thousands gulf region jobs that have been suspended due to the six-month moratorium that halted operations on 33 permitted deepwater wells. With the nation struggling with a prolonged period of joblessness, immediate action is needed by President Obama to get the workers he displaced back to work," Issa said in his statement.

"The politics of this crisis should not result in the permanent loss of tens of thousands of American jobs," he added. "In the state of Louisiana alone, where one-in-three jobs is related to the oil and natural gas industry, the moratorium will cripple their economy and leave thousands of families without income."

The completely different takes and the jabs at the opposing party show -- as if more proof were needed -- how difficult it will be for a bipartisan energy policy to emerge from Congress. 

 

June 10, 2010
US Senate blocks a crazy resolution on air quality

Sanity actually ruled today in the halls of Congress, for a pleasant change.

As The Bee's editorial board pointed out Sunday, some in Congress are attempting to block measures that would improve vehicle fuel economy and thus reduce pressure to expand offshore oil drilling -- even as oil gushes into the Gulf of Mexico day after day.

Thankfully, today the U.S. Senate, by a vote of 53-47, rejected a motion to consider a resolution by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, that would roll back the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gases and implement a version of California's "clean cars" law.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, applauded the vote, saying it would be "malfeasance" to stop the EPA from protecting the public from air pollution.

"California has two of the worst non-attainment regions in the country: the South Coast basin, including Los Angeles, and the San Joaquin Valley," she said on the Senate floor.

"Experts tell us, combined, ozone and particulate matter contribute to up to 14,000 deaths and $71 billion in health care costs every year. Roughly 2.5 million Californians suffer from asthma - and it's increasing - and other air pollution related illnesses. So this is a matter of saving lives. It is a matter of major health concern and welfare, and it should be looked at that way.

"If temperatures rise as projected, these two regions of our country could see 75 percent to 85 percent more days with warming-related smog and ozone pollution. This means more asthma, more lung-related disease, more premature death from air pollution," Feinstein said.

"These scientific observations are not political statements, they are facts established by scientific study after study. Yet the resolution offered today would reject this evidence."

UPDATE: Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, also opposed the resolution on the floor.

"Today I am proud that the Senate took a stand on the side of America's families, clean energy jobs and national security," she said in a statement after the vote. "Senators held firm against Big Oil and refused to overturn the scientific and health finding that is the foundation of a brighter future for America."

 

June 10, 2010
A bad hair day in California's U.S. Senate race

We all knew the national media would focus on the fact that California's U.S. Senate contenders are both women.

But their hairstyles as a big issue right out of the gate?

The cable TV gabfests and political bloggers have glommed on to Republican Carly Fiorina's gibe at Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer's hair being "soooo yesterday."

(The incident has been a staple on CNN and MSNBC. Here are some examples from the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast and FrumForum.)

Boxer's camp will be hard-pressed to respond, even if they so desired, because Fiorina's short hair stems from her battle with breast cancer last year.

And if they didn't remember, Fiorina managed to slide in a reminder, even as she gave her explanation for the hair remark, caught on camera while she was waiting for an appearance on a Sacramento TV station.

"Oh, you know, I was -- I was quoting a friend of mine," she said on Fox News Channel Wednesday night. "My goodness, my hair's been talked about by a million people, you know? It sort of goes with the territory.

"Especially when you don't have any. As you remember, I started out with none," Fiorina added helpfully.

It's petty politics at its stupidest. And it only feeds the perception that female politicians should be treated differently somehow.

There are lots of serious issues out there for Boxer and Fiorina to debate. They should get past hair-gate and start.

June 10, 2010
New report lists Nancy Pelosi's biggest benefactors

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful member of Congress, has compiled an eclectic collection of sugar daddies (and mommies) over her long political career.

According to a report released today by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, the San Francisco Democrat's top five individual donors are: John W. Keker, a San Francisco trial lawyer who was chief prosecutor of Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North for his role in the Iran-contra scandal; his wife, Christina Day Keker, a graphic designer; Bernard Osher, the billionaire founder of World Savings Bank; Lucinda B. Watson, an IBM heiress who is a healing-touch practitioner; and Alexander R. Mehran, Watson's former husband and head of Sunset Development Co.

They have given Pelosi a combined $240, 350 since her first congressional race in 1987, the center's report says.

Pelosi's top political action committee backers include the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the National Association of Realtors; the National Education Association; and the United Auto Workers.

There are eight labor unions among Pelosi's top ten PAC donors, all of which have given more than $100,000. The center says that unions have benefited from her presence in Congress. The AFL-CIO's scorecards indicate 100 percent support from Pelosi for their legislative priorities in 2008 and 2009, and a 95 percent lifetime score for the speaker, the report says.

The report is the last in a series that the center has issued this week on where the four top congressional leaders have received campaign money throughout their careers. The earlier reports on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican; and House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, are available here.

June 9, 2010
Sarah Palin, the queenmaker, weighs in on California

Sarah Palin -- the former Alaska governor, 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee and now tea party favorite -- is trying to be a political queenmaker these days.

She provided a key endorsement to Carly Fiorina, who easily won California's Republican primary for U.S. Senate on Tuesday.

But on Fox News Channel today, Palin pooh-poohed her impact. "I think any credit given to me is way overblown because no one individual can tip it one way or another for a candidate," she said on "America Live with Megyn Kelly."

"It's not necessarily who they are or who is endorsing them but it's what they stand for that is so right for America," she added.

Palin did not endorse the other powerful woman leading the GOP ticket in California -- Meg Whitman, who won the GOP nomination for governor, probably in part because Whitman supports abortion rights, including taxpayer funding (unlike Fiorina, who supports overturning Roe v. Wade and has the backing of anti-abortion groups).

But she did blast Whitman's Democratic opponent, former governor and current Attorney General Jerry Brown as a tax-and-spend liberal.

"I guess I don't have enough grace to apply to Jerry Brown when he says he isn't going to be one for taxing Americans," Palin said on Fox Business Network. "Look what he did when he was governor. Look at what the foundation has been built upon there in California and he had been a part of that and that was spending outside of their means. I guess I don't have enough grace to say 'Hey Jerry, I believe ya.' "

June 9, 2010
Sacramento chamber: Voters agreed with us on Prop. 16

The Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce took a lonely stand against Proposition 16, the PG&E power grab to extend its monopoly in much of northern California.

But it's not exactly crowing that the measure went down to defeat Tuesday, despite a huge gap in spending because PG&E sunk about $46 million in its effort.

Instead, it issued a measured response today: "The Sacramento Metro Chamber is pleased with election results on Prop 16. It appears the voters of California came to the same conclusion our board of directors did after they took the time to understand the impact that this initiative could of had on their local community and the state's ability to maintain a competitive environment within the energy industry. It is apparent that California voters are not simply backing these 'industry' backed initiatives."

Unlike the California Chamber and the vast majority of other chambers across the state, the Sacramento chamber last week declared that the measure would be bad for business. In so doing, it rebuffed PG&E, a major member, and backed another member, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, whose future prospects were in jeopardy.

The chamber noted that the proposition would have severely hampered any expansion by SMUD, which provides lower rates to its members.

While it's difficult to measure the impact of any single endorsement, or non-endorsement, it's worth noting that while Prop. 16 failed by 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent statewide, it lost by 58 percent to 42 percent in Sacramento County.

 

June 9, 2010
Independent expenditure campaigns go one for two

This time, a big-money independent expenditure attack campaign didn't work.

In the 9th state Assembly District Democratic primary, the California Faculty Association unleashed a barrage of hit pieces on Sacramento City Council member Kevin McCarty in support of Chris Garland, who is on leave as the association's political director.

But after Tuesday's voting, McCarty was vying with Sacramento County supervisor Roger Dickinson for the nomination. After all the last-minute mail-in ballots are counted, McCarty could very well end up the winner.

Garland? He was far behind and out of the running, despite the $116,000 in support from his faculty association.

An independent expenditure campaign did boost its favored candidate, however, in another Sacramento-area legislative race.

Richard Pan won the Democratic nomination in the 5th Assembly District after EdVoice, which advocates for charter schools, went after Larry Miles, who served on the San Juan Unified Schools board.

June 9, 2010
Change for Sacramento City Council, but how much change?

The Sacramento City Council that takes office Nov. 23 will look very different. But whether it will operate differently is still very much up in the air.

As many as three incumbents won't be there. Robbie Waters finished third in District 7 on Tuesday, the first council incumbent to lose since 1992. Ryan Chin and Darrell Fong will face off in a November runoff.

In District 1, Angelique Ashby is trying to hang on to enough of a lead to avoid a runoff with incumbent Ray Tretheway. In District 5, incumbent Lauren Hammond gave up her seat for what turned out to be an unsuccessful bid for state Assembly.

And there could be a fourth new person on the nine-member council come spring. District 6 council member Kevin McCarty is neck-and-neck in the Democratic primary for the 9th state Assembly District. If he outlasts Sacramento County supervisor Roger Dickinson, he would be the odds-on favorite to win the seat in November in the heavily Democratic district. Once he joins the Legislature, there would be a special election next March or April to replace him.

Unfortunately for Mayor Kevin Johnson, however, it's the current council who will decide by next month whether his latest strong mayor plan makes it to the ballot in November. And after he endorsed Ashby, Tretheway certainly will not be the fifth vote that Johnson needs to get the "executive mayor" plan before voters.

So it may end up that it'll be different faces, but the same system of governance at City Hall.

June 8, 2010
Pro-cityhood group apologizes, foes seek investigation

The broader questions about the proposed incorporation of Arden Arcade aside, the two sides are going at it hammer and tong over how the pro-cityhood group is going about its business -- and what that might mean for a new city.

After more than four years, cityhood supporters are on the cusp of getting incorporation on the Nov. 2 ballot. With the blessing of the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission, only a typically pro-forma vote from county supervisors stands in the way.

Stay Sacramento, the main group opposing incorporation, has been pressing for the Arden Arcade Incorporation Committee to disclose its financial backers. And now that it has, Stay Sacramento called today for the Sacramento District Attorney and California Attorney General to launch an "immediate and complete investigation" into two of the newly revealed contributions: $20,000 from the Fulton-El Camino Recreation and Park District and $10,000 from the Arden Manor Recreation and Park District.

"This is a gross misuse of our taxpayer dollars," Mike Duveneck, chairman of Stay Sacramento, said in a statement. "It is absolutely deplorable that the community park districts would give funds intended for maintaining our neighborhood parks and providing athletic programs for children, families and seniors to a political organization attempting to form a city."

Noting that donations also came from several waste disposal companies, Duveneck added, "This cityhood drive is not about better government, it is about buying political favors as indicated by the total lack of transparency this group has been operating under."

On Monday, The Bee reported that the incorporation committee and the Arden Arcade Cityhood Study Team, an affiliated nonprofit group, have failed to register with the state attorney general's office and have failed to file all their federal tax returns.

The incorporation committee's chairman, Joel Archer, just issued a statement to The Bee this afternoon that apologized for what it described as "technical mistakes" committed by volunteers who are ordinary people, and that pledged to comply with the applicable laws.

"The supporters of cityhood would like to apologize for our lack of technical knowledge regarding every aspect of the monumental project we have undertaken. If this seems amateurish, it should. Volunteers running the group do appear to have made some technical mistakes, which are being corrected. These weren't professional bureaucrats or politicians, they were stay-at-home dads, small business people, retired workers and community volunteers who refused to accept the ongoing failure of the county trying to find a solution while county politicians, political operatives and bureaucrats tried to silence and divert them. As citizens committees, these entities have had volunteer members, without pay, throughout their existence," the statement said.

"We regret not understanding every form or fee required to maintain absolute compliance. This is a simple mistake made by ordinary people, unused to the inundation of paperwork involved in the most expensive incorporation process in California's history. The Incorporation Committee is, in fact, not tax exempt, while the Study Team was an IRS 501 (c)(3). Neither group was formed as a charity, but we will be verifying with the AG's office as to our exact requirements and submitting our $25 fee and registration as required. We have also been correcting the IRS Form 990s because they were done incorrectly by folks who had never previously seen such forms. It is an untruth that cityhood supporters have sought to deceive anyone or willfully ignored our legal obligations."

Return Wednesday to www.sacbee.com/opinion to find out what The Bee's editorial board thinks about the controversy.

June 3, 2010
Consolidation gains traction in Sacramento governments

Little by little, Sacramento city and county bigwigs are taking the first steps toward consolidation. Officials are even biting the bullet and taking on one of the toughest tasks -- showing the door to redundant administrators.

As part of the 2010-11 budget proposal he is unveiling today, City Manager Gus Vina is demoting or laying off four department heads -- labor relations, youth development, neighborhood services and either code enforcement or community development -- in the consolidation of those offices and agencies with other city departments. The savings: $2.7 million toward plugging a $43 million budget hole.

Vina is also looking at other internal mergers during 2010-11: establishing a maintenance department by bringing together parts of the general services, parks, utilities and transportation departments; creating a community relations department by consolidating the 311 call center, neighborhood services and e-government efforts; and by merging police and fire dispatching.

And city officials are looking at potential consolidations with Sacramento County on animal services, parking collections, vehicle abatement services, law enforcement storage and building inspections.

On the county side, it has dismissed the animal shelter director as a precursor to possibly getting out of the animal care business entirely and turning it over to the SPCA, the city or a combination of agencies that could be a regional partnership.

To help close a $181 million deficit, 16 of the 33 remaining jobs at the shelter would be cut. The county is figuring out how to keep open the gleaming $23 million shelter, which opened just six months ago and which is costing the county $1.6 million a year in bond repayments.

Merging agencies and functions can often save taxpayers money, and in these tough budget times, every dollar counts. That has made officials here and elsewhere much more open to the possibilities.

Consolidation may be painful now, especially for managers who lose their jobs. But in the longer term, it will put local governments on much more solid financial footing.

June 2, 2010
Gov. Schwarzenegger says he's untroubled by Poizner barbs

It's one of the main lines of attack against Meg Whitman -- that she represents a third term for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, anathema now to many conservative Republicans who once idolized him.

Trying to catch up to Whitman before Tuesday's GOP primary, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner is using the comparison as if it were an epithet.

But if Schwarzenegger is troubled by that, he's not letting on.

"Well I didn't know she has big biceps like me," the governor jokes about the comparison in an interview scheduled to air Thursday morning on Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends." "But you know I don't pay any attention. This is just politics...You know I laugh at all those things."

"It's sad that in politics, especially the way our primary system works, that you have to do that, that you have to say all kinds of crazy things," he adds in the interview, according to excerpts provided to The Bee today. "And the bottom line is that I focus on the work that I have."

And at the top of his to-do list is dealing with a $19 billion budget deficit. He has proposed draconian cuts in social programs, including the end to the state's welfare-to-work program. The cuts have been summarily dismissed by Democrats in the Legislature, who instead suggested tax hikes that have little to no chance of passing. Schwarzenegger unsurprisingly blames Democrats for the mess.

"I was not able to really fix the budget system and the tax system in the way that I wanted to in California; because you know we have a Democratic legislature," he says in the interview.

He also says he wasn't seeking a "bailout" by asking the Obama administration for billions: "We only believe in getting the money that we deserve. We are partners with the federal government in a lot of programs if its education funding, healthcare funding, or for instance the funding for the incarceration of undocumented immigrants."

As for his future after leaving office, Schwarzenegger wouldn't go there in the interview. "I have no idea what I'm going to do next," he says. "If I start putting my foot over to my next career or what I'm going to do next that means I'm not keeping my eye on the ball. And one thing I learned from bodybuilding and from sports in general: keep your eye on the ball."

June 1, 2010
Sacramento chamber stands up for SMUD, against Prop. 16

In something of a surprise, the Sacramento Metro Chamber board of directors took a bold stand this afternoon, coming out against Proposition 16.

With the measure on next Tuesday's ballot, Pacific Gas and Electric is trying to protect its monopoly by preventing competition from public utilities such as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. If approved, it would require two-thirds voters approval for public utilities to establish or expand service. That would make it extremely difficult for new utilities to form and, because of vague wording, could potentially bar existing ones from serving new subdivisions or industrial parks.

As the Bee's editorial board pointed out this morning, many of the Metro Chamber's 2,200-plus members benefit from SMUD electricity rates, which are typically lower than what they would get from PG&E.

The board went against the advice of its executive committee, which last Thursday counseled neutrality, noting that the chamber counts among its biggest members both PG&E and SMUD.

But chamber Executive Director Matt Mahood reports that after a presentation from both sides and a "robust discussion," the board decided to oppose the measure because the two-thirds threshold is too high and would limit competition; because it is poorly written and an abuse of the initiative process; and because SMUD and other public utilities offer significantly lower rates that allow local businesses to hire more employees.

In an email, Mahood said that the board also concluded that the current process helps local companies like Solar Power Inc. in Roseville, which are developing alternative energy sources.

The chamber board's decision is a victory for fairness and sanity in the face of a well-funded ($46 million and counting) campaign by PG&E, which cannot be happy. There is not much organized opposition against Prop. 16, so the chamber's action will likely get quite a bit of attention.

It joins only a handful of chambers of commerce in California that have not fallen in line behind Prop. 16. The Folsom Chamber is also opposing the measure. SMUD's annexation of Folsom in 1984 saved residents there $238 million between 1984 and 2005, according to one study.

 



About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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