Utility Times Are Changing

by Lou Bininger

PG and E once was popular around Yuba-Sutter Counties. Most people knew the local manager. The company was very involved in the community similar to Recology (Waste Management Company) today. Then, like other large corporations they reorganized how they did business and became more aloof from customers.

Though the state has a glut of oil, natural gas and hydropower, utility rates went way up rather than down. State global warming regulations added to the pay-more-for-less utility world. Today, some surveys show PG and E rates 60% higher than the national average.

Then PG and E got into social engineering. In November 2008 there was a measure on the ballot to create an amendment to the State Constitution stating that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. It passed with 52.24% of vote. Earlier in May of that year a majority of Supreme Court Justices had ruled that same-sex marriage was a constitutionally-protected right in California.

California first explicitly defined marriage in 1977. The California State Legislature passed a law declaring that marriage is a “personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman.”

In 2000, voters passed ballot initiative Proposition 22 with a margin of 61%, formally defining marriage in California as between a man and a woman. Proposition 22 was a statutory change via the initiative process, not a constitutional change.

Then in 2004, San Francisco Mayor (now Governor) Gavin Newsom performed same-sex marriages in his city, which were subsequently judicially annulled. This case, and some others, eventually led to the decision announced on May 15, 2008 of the California Supreme Court, which by a 4-3 vote reversed Proposition 22.

So, in the campaign against the traditional belief of what marriage was PG and E spent $250,000 of ratepayers’ money to defeat Proposition 8. The utility monopoly supported same sex marriage.

Let’s say that was a blow to PG and E’s stellar image for some Californians. Then, September 9, 2010, a natural gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, CA leveling 35 homes, killing 8 and injuring more than 50. A federal jury found the company guilty of obstructing justice by lying to regulators about its pipeline-testing policy. PG&E was also accused of collaborating with a top state regulator (California Public Utility Commission) to find a judge who would be friendly to the company.

Since then, there have been dozens of horrific fires, hundreds of deaths, hundreds of thousands of acres burned, tens of thousands of structures destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced. Early indication is that PG and E is at fault. Meantime, customers are hit with high rates, then higher rates to absorb the damage settlements and finally the cost of evacuating and in many cases losing homes and loved ones.

In other utility news Governor Newsome wants to tax drinking water to clean-up some tainted water in a few areas around the state. But Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association said he thinks improvements for water systems shouldn’t be addressed with a new tax when the state is sitting on a $14.8 billion budget surplus.

Speaking of water and taxes, the ballot initiative banned by the board of Yuba County Water Agency was rejected because they say it would have amounted to an unlawful tax on about 100 farmers making millions off selling water. The initiative would have shared some of the revenue collected off Agency water and power sales with all of Yuba County citizens.

Most Yuba County voters wouldn’t agree that a few people “own the water” since those making millions didn’t produce the water to sell. The farmers / water pumpers along with Agency leaders manipulated control and sales benefits to favor a few. Voters would believe that they indeed are being deprived of their rightful benefit (are being taxed) for corporate welfare parlayed to farmers.

Yuba County voters made the decision over 50-years back to borrow money for Bullards Bar Dam and guaranteed payment of the bonds.

The Agency is rewriting history by downplaying the election to permit the sale of bonds and minimizing the annual transfer of $400,000 or more in property taxes (the people’s assets) for 50 years to operate the Agency. The hindsight contrived argument that there was no risk with the bonds since PG and E would get the hydro-power and make the payments is foolish.

PG and E nearly went bankrupt once and probably will now due to negligence and mismanagement. Thankfully, Yuba County dodged a financial bullet by PG and E paying off the bonds in 2016.