The Merced Irrigation District, along with a coalition of locally owned public utilities, filed a lawsuit Thursday to disqualify a June 8 ballot measure that could change how electricity is sold in California.
Proposition 16, which was bankrolled by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., would create the "Taxpayers Right to Vote Act," a proposal that would prohibit any public utility from expanding its service area without the support from two-thirds of the local electorate inside the existing service area and in the new area to be served.
The opponents of Prop. 16 said it should be removed from the statewide ballot "for being false and misleading, and for concealing its true nature and purpose from voters," according to a press release issued late Thursday afternoon by the group that filed suit.
The lawsuit alleges that language used to describe the proposition both on the ballot and in the petition to qualify the measure for a statewide vote was misleading in stating that the purpose was to control taxes, government borrowing and spending. The real intent, according to the lawsuit, is to create a monopoly.
Robin Swanson, spokeswoman for the Yes on 16 Campaign, disagreed with the allegations.
"It should be up to voters whether local governments go into this risky business," said Swanson about the proposition. "There needs to be public discussion on this issue."
Swanson said Prop. 16 would only apply if there's an area that already has an electrical provider -- say PG&E -- and a public utility emerges or expands to provide electricity in the same area. Two-thirds of voters in that locale would have to vote to allow the new publicly owned competitor into the market.
Mindy Spatt, spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network or TURN, said Prop. 16 is not about giving voters a choice. It's about making it almost impossible for voters to choose between private electrical companies and often less expensive public utilities. "For PG&E to present itself as the sort of best choice that should be constitutionally protected from any form of competition is ludicrous when you compare PG&E to the municipal utilities," she said.
PG&E has thus far spent more than $6.5 million on the Yes on 16 Campaign, according to fillings with the Secretary of State's office
A yes vote on the ballot measure means local governments would generally be required to receive two-thirds voter approval before they could start electricity services or expand electricity service into a new territory, according to California's Legislative Analyst's Office.
A no vote would mean local governments generally could continue to implement proposals for start-up or expansion of electricity service either through approval by a majority of voters or actions by governing boards, according to the analyst's office.
The lawsuit was filed in Sacramento County Superior Court by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District; San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission; the city and county of San Francisco; the city of Moreno Valley; the city of Redding; the California Municipal Utilities Association; the San Joaquin Valley Power Authority; the Modesto Irrigation District; and the Merced Irrigation District.
This week, "Off the 99," the Merced Sun-Star's public affairs talk show, invited Hicham Eltal, deputy general manager of the Merced Irrigation District; Mindy Spatt, communications director for The Utility Reform Network; and Robin Swanson, spokeswoman for the Yes on 16 campaign, to our studio to discuss the impending ballot measure.
"Off the 99" airs weekly on KYOS 1480 AM at 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 6:30 a.m. on Sundays, or all the time at www.mercedsunstar.com.
Reporters and "Off the 99" hosts Danielle E. Gaines and Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.