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City joins lawsuit to remove PG&E-funded measure from state ballot

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San Francisco on Thursday joined a group of other California cities and public utilities in a lawsuit to remove a statewide ballot measure they say misleads voters about its true intentions to doom public power.

Proposition 16, a constitutional amendment on the June 8 statewide ballot, would require a two-thirds majority vote before local jurisdictions could establish a public power program, known as community choice aggregation, to compete with private utilities.

Proponents of the measure, funded by Pacific Gas & Electric Co., call it the “Taxpayers Right to Vote Act,” and claim it will give voters “the final say” on whether to implement “costly and risky government schemes to take over local electric service.”

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera Thursday joined the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission, the cities of Moreno Valley and Redding, the California Municipal Utilities Association, the San Joaquin Valley Power Authority, the Modesto Irrigation District and the Merced Irrigation District in filing a civil complaint calling for the proposition to be taken off the ballot.

The City Attorney’s Office said the measure, despite its name, has “no bearing on taxation and government spending.”

“Despite what its proponents would have us believe, Prop. 16 doesn’t help taxpayers and doesn’t empower voters — in fact, it does the exact opposite,” Herrera said in a prepared statement.

Herrera said the measure would create a “deadlock on California’s energy future.”

San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi added in the statement that the proposition would simply preserve a PG&E monopoly on power.

“This measure asks Californians to surrender the principle of majority rule, and enable PG&E to kill any competing public energy program it wants by winning just over a third of the vote.”

San Francisco’s community choice aggregation program, CleanPowerSF, aims to generate at least half of its electricity from renewable sources for those who choose to be in the program, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

According to San Francisco Public Utilities Commission General Manager Ed Harrington, CleanPowerSF would offer “more renewable energy at a cost-competitive price.”

“Consumers benefit by having a choice where none currently exists,” Harrington said.

Mirkarimi said the program has already been given preliminary approval through bond measures passed by voters in 2001, and is in the process of being implemented.

Mirkarimi said no one voted to receive service from PG&E, which has been in San Francisco for decades, adding he was “extremely concerned” Prop. 16 could be approved and set a precedent in other states.

“If this passes, consumer and ratepayer rights have literally gone backwards 40 years, in the United States,” Mirkarimi said.

However, campaign spokeswoman Robin Swanson responded to the litigation, saying, “This is exactly why we should pass Prop. 16. Politicians would rather spend taxpayer money to go to court, than have a vote of the people on the issue.”

Prop. 16 requires a simple 50-percent majority statewide to pass.

“We’re trusting the voters in this situation, that they’re going to make the right decision,” Swanson said.