Tag Archives: Villaraigosa

Why I’m voting NO on Measure B

I’ll try and explain this difficult decision as best I can with as little hyperbole as possible….. (to read this post with supporting links, please go to:  http: //www.veniceforchange.com/2009/02/why-im-voting-no-on-measure-b.html )

Los Angeles relies on coal-fired power plants more than almost any other large city in the country. More than 75% of the electricity DWP generates comes fossil fuels, most of that from coal.

Measure B, the “Green Energy/Good Jobs” ballot initiative promises to generate 400 megawatts of solar power by 2014, save lives by improving air quality (or at least keeping it from getting worse), create thousands of good-paying union jobs and make Los Angeles the solar capital of the United States, all while only costing rate payers an additional $1 a month.

The measure is just one component of a massive three-part plan called Solar LA.  The program’s goal is to create a 1.3 gigawatt solar network of residential, commercial and municipally-owned solar energy systems.  

According to the literature, Solar LA:

….is simply the largest solar plan undertaken by any single city in the world – with the municpally-owned portion of the plan alone representing more solar capacity than in all of California today. By 2020, the plan will lower carbon emissions in Los Angeles and increase the City’s solar portfolio by nearly 100- fold.”

Measure B is the third part of this program – the municipally-owned part. What it proposes to do is to build and install thousands of solar panels on city-owned buildings and municipal properties such parking lots, parks, schools, etc. all over Los Angeles.

Sounds pretty good, right? As someone who believes in solar power and who’s pro-union (in fact, both my husband and I are union members), I know it sounded great to me. We desperately need a comprehensive solar program. The sooner the better.

But the more research I did, the more I began to question if Measure B will be able to deliver on it’s promises. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that if passed, Measure B will likely do the opposite, and will instead actually undermine the city’s solar energy efforts.

Here’s why:

Measure B is actually a Charter Amendment. It will transfer oversight of the solar power program from an independent five-member commission with technical expertise to the City Council, which is neither independent in this case, nor technically proficient.

And because the measure would allow the council to change or suspend everything that’s in it, without the normal public hearing process generated by a DWP Commission/City Council partnership, the council’s new authority would not be accompanied by new accountability.

DWP has no experience creating or managing such an ambitious program, and they’re shutting out third-party contractors that do.

DWP has a pretty good record managing it’s distribution networks ( DWP’s customers remained relatively unaffected during the rolling blackouts of 2001). This is because DWP owns and controls both the power generated from coal-fired power plants in Utah and Arizona and the distribution network –  in the form of transmission lines – that bring power to us in Los Angeles.

What they haven’t done, though, is actually build the coal plants or the generators.  In essence, that’s what DWP is proposing to do for solar – build an equivalent of it’s own power plant – something it’s never tried before. And since Measure B stipulates that all work must be done exclusively by DWP employees (outside the actual manufacture of the solar panels), it’s shutting out outside contractors who have that experience.

Add to this DWP’s spotty management record for other Green Power projects and a history of illegally overbilling clients, and in my mind there’s some cause for concern.

Most DWP workers don’t have the expertise or experience to execute the plan, and the plan won’t allow other trade unions an oportunity to participate.

IBEW, the union representing DWP workers and – not so coincidentally – the authors of Measure B, will solely be responsible for implementing every aspect of the program. The problem, simply, is that most of the work is construction, not electrical. Work DWP has had  significant problems with in the past.

Thousands of other trade unionists, like the membership AFL-CIO Laborers Local 300 – who have tons of experience installing solar panels – will be left out in the cold.*

Nobody knows how much this program will cost.

Competing reports put the cost for Measure B (not the entire “Solar LA” program) anywhere from $1.5 billion to over $3 billion depending on which report you believe. The DWP is also apparently counting on a number of tax credits, subsidies, technological breakthroughs, economies of scale, volume discounts, and optimal sightings to drive down costs, none of which has been really vetted or talked through.

Frankly, I think higher rates in exchange for clean, renewable energy can be a fair deal, so that’s not the issue for me. The fact that nobody knows one way or another, however, gives me pause, because this is yet another indicator this measure isn’t fully cooked yet.

We don’t need Measure B to create a municipally-owned solar power program in Los Angeles.

The proponents of Measure B state that a “no” vote is a vote against all solar in LA. Well, this really isn’t accurate. As stated above, Measure B is only one part of a three-part program. The other two parts are completely unaffected by the outcome of Tuesday’s election.

We have alternatives that should be explored.

DWP should be putting more emphasis on creating ways for customers to purchase solar power or solar technology from a variety of vendors to ensure flexibility and encourage healthy competition. Instead, DWP seems determined to concentrate all their eggs in one basket. Their basket.

For instance, DWP does not allow its customers to purchase solar electricity from third-party solar developers, a very popular model in the rest of the state that allows schools and businesses to harness tax credits and hedge against future utility rate increases.

In an LA Times Op Ed, Adam Browning, co-founder and executive director of the Vote Solar Initiative, wrote:

Even worse, during the last legislative session, the DWP supported a bill that would have allowed the utility to raid the state’s SB 1 fund — which was developed under the California Solar Initiative, a program that provides rebates for customers who install solar systems on their roofs and reduce their electricity bills — and use the money for utility-owned wholesale power generation. It was an appalling move, and when my organization asked the governor to veto the bill, he did.

Though the DWP has committed to generating 280 megawatts of solar energy via customer incentives under SB 1, the utility’s plan lists only 130 megawatts that would come from qualifying customer programs. Department officials say they will follow the letter of the law, but it’s pretty clear that they mean to follow the letter of the law until they can get the law changed. That’s unacceptable, and the mayor and the leadership of the DWP should disavow these market-restricting tactics.

I think all this begs the question why, exactly, is Measure B on the ballot in the first place, and how did it get there?

There’s been a lot of speculation that this might be a political move by Mayor Villaraigosa who, at the time Measure B was put on the ballot,  feared he’d be facing developer Rick Caruso in a serious primary challenge:

Like most things involving the council and City Hall, this all comes down to money and ambition. At the time Villaraigosa signed on to the extraordinary sleight-of-hand, he was in search of an insurance policy in case billionaire developer Rick Caruso jumped into the mayoral race against him. With its ability to spend unlimited amounts in independent expenditure campaigns waged on a candidate’s behalf, IBEW Local 18 — and Local 11….is pretty good insurance. The council members can hope that the unions and the consultants will remember them and their causes fondly too.

Or maybe Villaraigosa is hoping Measure B will burnish his resume just in time to run for governor in 2010?)

(S)upport for Proposition B helps further align Villaraigosa’s gubernatorial ambitions with two realities of statewide Democratic politics: the growing importance of Latino voters and the concomitant growth of organized labor’s influence.

According to people close to the mayor’s political operation, his hopes of capturing the nomination in the Democratic gubernatorial primary turn on the fact that Democratic races are decided in two places — the Bay Area and Southern California, mainly Los Angeles. Their calculation is that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown will split the vote of the Anglo-liberals who predominate in the Bay Area, while Lt. Gov. John Garamendi will shave off non-Latino voters in his Central Valley base.

Whatever the reason it ended up on the ballot, I’ll be voting “no” on Measure B.  Because with Measure B off the table, we’d have a real opportunity for proponents and critics, the DWP, all trade unions, solar experts, environmentalists, stakeholders, and the City Council to work together to come up with a comprehensive plan to create a workable solution from the bottom up, not the top down.

Vote “no” on Measure B.

*For the record, my husband and I are members of .I.A.T.S.E. Local 700, so we don’t have a dog in this fight.

Fabian Nunez Wants Honest Conversation About Single-Payer Health Care

Speaking at a news conference at the state capitol today, both Governor Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez pledged to regroup with organized labor, consumer, hospital and insurance groups to keep pushing a comprehensive plan that would provide universal coverage.  Nunez even vowed to give SB 840 the type of scrutiny his plan received in the Senate.

While “AHNOLD” wants to figure out why their plan failed, offering no personal suspicions; Nnunez suggested that support for a government-run, “single-payer” system lurked in the background and wound up undermining AB X1 1.

Going even further, Nunez vowed to subject it to the same kind of scrutiny his KOA’d plan received. “I think it’s time, for us to have an honest conversation about single payer,” the Sacramento Bee reports.

Then he made a Clintonesque slight at single-payer supporters saying that lawmakers “cannot create the false sense of hope that we can do something better if it hasn’t been tested and put through the same type of scrutiny that our effort was put through.”

Sounds like fightin’ words to me.  

But we all should remember, Nunez supported Sen. Sheila Kuehl’s single-payer plan in 2006 voting for its passage on August 28th, 2006.  It was vetoed by the governor a short time later.

Did he not engage in an honest conversation about it at that time?

I would like to think he honestly supported universal health care through a single-payer system at that time.  His comments today, at the side of the governor make me wonder if he was not being honest in 2006 and was only playing politics in advance of the Governor’s re-election in November.

You judge, here are his words delivered at a rally urging the governor’s support of SB 840 in September 2006 on the steps of the state capitol.

“Health care is a right and not a privilege….One in five don’t have health insurance in California–that’s 6 ½ million Californians out of the 37 million of us in the state. Three out of four of those who don’t have health insurance are those who work. That, my friends, is unconscionable–not just for employees, but also employers. Just in the past 5 years premiums have increased more than 73%.”

But now he wants an honest conversation about a bill he described in 2006 as “good for business…it’s good for consumers.”

Still, I invite the scrutiny.  While I certainly support SB 840 I am not convinced it is the only option.  I largely agreed with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s assessment about the Schwarzenegger-Nunez plan:

“As a strong supporter of a truly universal health care system, I write to urge you to support AB1x (Nunez) as a significant strategic step toward our shared goal,” Villaraigosa wrote in a letter. “I strongly believe that health reform need not be an “either/or” situation, and that supporting the reforms of AB1x is not inconsistent at all with being a whole-hearted supporter of SB 840 and single-payer health care.”

If Villaraigosa can see AB1x has a forerunner to a truly universal system, than why would Nunez look to heavily scrutinize SB 840?

The politics of retribution will serve no one but unscrupulous profit-driven insurance companies, setting back an entire movement of single-payer supporters who have taken their cause to the grassroots.  

Working with progressive forces gives you a stronger hand at the negotiating table with the governor, fighting progressive forces gives the governor the upper hand.  Be a representative, not a foe.

To be clear, my goal is not to attack the state’s leading Democrat, but rather to urge him to take principled progressive leadership on health care reform that provides affordable, quality health care to all.  

If the insurance companies must be taken on, then lets do it, and lets do it without financing schemes that favor HMO’s at the expense of smokers and tobacco companies.  In light of recent news its hard to imagine the Altria Group is any worse than CIGNA who initially denied a critical surgery for a California teen who eventually died.

As Nunez pays closer attention to SB 840, I certainly hope he recognizes why he supported it in 2006.  This is not a shining endorsement of SB 840, but rather a call for progressive civility, principles and integrity.  

Angelides in SF

(Cross posted at Happening-Here)

Democratic party heavy hitters came to my ‘hood this morning to launch the local subset of the fall California campaign. This doesn’t happen a lot. I live in San Francisco’s Latino district; the rally site at 16th and Mission is not only day laborer terrain, but also drug dealer crossroads and leftist land. It’s much more gritty than pretty. (Note the pigeon in the picture.)

Alerted by Calitics, I charged off at 9:30 to what was billed as a 9:30-11am rally. Not surprisingly, I was more than on time. Just to be clear I should say I’ll be voting for Angelides and probably walk a few precincts, but I don’t have a huge attachment to this race (my political work this cycle will be outside California.)

The crowd, not counting TV cameras and reporters, was very sparse, about 100 people, mostly from organized labor, SEIU, UFCW, a few UFW, Bricklayers. The only identifiable community organization that had sent folks was ACORN.

My little neighborhood sure got the full alignment of big wigs. Pictures below the fold.

left to right: Cindy Chavez (Democratic candidate for mayor of San Jose), Irma Anderson(mayor of Richmond), Antonio Villaraigosa (Los Angeles)

Phil Angelides, Gavin Newsom (San Francisco), Tom Bates (Berkeley), and Heather Fargo (Sacramento)

Gotta give it to these folks, they all were disciplined enough so that no one droned on. They spoke, endorsed and gave up the mic. Villaraigosa repeated part of his endorsement in Spanish, appropriately given the ethnicity of the few onlookers.


Angelides made a passable speech. Running for governor has taught him to be less of stick than I remember him being. He came off as a decent policy wonk who aims to represent the interests of ordinary Californians better than Gov. Arnold. Not inspiring, but certainly he’d be an improvement.

Some thoughts on the event from my perspective as a political organizer:

  • Can we ever build a Democratic party that ordinary people care about by relying on TV coverage? Clearly no on-the-ground organization tried very hard to do turnout for this rather high-powered event. Either relying on the media to report it was acceptable to the campaign or somebody screwed up. That was a lot of big shots to make show up for a 15 second evening news photo op.
  • Given the location, this event was presumably designed to attract low income Latino voters. If so, how could I have spent the day yesterday at the immigrant Labor Day march and seen not one flier announcing it? Flyering wouldn’t have greatly improved turnout (it seldom does) but it would have signaled to an energized constituency that Phil Angelides wants to speak to them. Labor (not the big wigs — workers and staffers) did turn out for the immigrant march; they could have made this happen.
  • The most effective political animal on the stage was clearly Gavin Newsom (and I have never been a Newsom supporter.) Why? Because he is tall and has a deep voice. In reality, Villaraigosa is probably the future leader of this lot, but he has much to overcome because he’s really short. One of Angelides’ downsides as candidate is that he’s something of a pipsqueak.
  • Judging from the stage set up, Angelides is running on the slogan “A Governor We Can Count On.” I smell less than artful polling and a cautious consultant there. Who is “we”? Why can we count on this aspiring governor? This slogan probably resonated last year when the unions had tagged Schwarzenegger as a liar who thieved money from the schools. But now that Arnold has remade himself as a “moderate,” Angelides has to present himself as more than “not Arnold” or even “not Bush”. (There was a vague whiff of this potent message.) If he can’t inspire the state, he is not going to trump the star-power of the Terminator.

For all my complaints, it was a pleasant, expeditious event in what must be a core area — I’ll do what I can to elect Angelides.

Mayor Villaraigosa endorses Cindy Montanez for State Senate

Cindy and Antonio

It was expected, and it happened: the Mayor has picked Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez over City Councilman Alex Padilla as his choice for the next State Senator for District 20 in the San Fernando Valley.

Is this a significant development?  Arguably, yes.  The mayor needs every ally in City Council he can get in order to pass a city budget and to take control of the school district.  The political capital that Villaraigosa has put on the line adds substance to the symbolism of his endorsement.  His endorsement also adds significantly to the profile of Montanez’ campaign, which, if judged by street sign presence in the district alone, could use some more visibility.

The race in the 20th is possibly the most important one in the state this year aside from the gubernatorial.  The low-octane performance of both candidates for the Democratic candidate for governor, unfortunately, threatens to drag down the electorate’s interest in every other contest as well.  Maybe Villaraigosa’s star power can bring some much needed attention to the San Fernando Valley, at least among Southern California Democrats.

Now if only the mayor would take a firm stand on immigration — then he’d be all over the national airwaves, and could command some serious attention with his endorsements.