Solar Power to the People? – What’s Wrong With Measure B

By Jim Smith

Most voters in the city of Los Angeles may not be even dimly aware that an election is scheduled to take place on March 3. But to many insiders battle lines have already been drawn on Measure B – Solar Power and Job Creation – that is one of five propositions on the ballot.

Opponents claim that it is a power play by the Dept. of Water and Power (DWP) and by its union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 11. They say electric rates will be raised unnecessarily. One of the opponents is former Venice Neighborhood Council President Dede Audet.

Supporters of the measure say it is a straightforward attempt to dramatically increase the installation of solar power in Los Angeles. They say that electric rates will either not increase or will increase by a modest amount. Joining Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in signing the supporting argument on the ballot is Mike Newhouse, the current President of the Venice Neighborhood Council.

Supporters went so far as to sue to block the opponents ballot argument, claiming it contained false and misleading statements. However, Judge David Yaffe, who has been involved in the ongoing Lincoln Place drama, and is no friend of the tenants, threw out the suit, saying that there is little substance to the measure, anyway. Representing the opponents in court was Venice attorney, Noel Weiss.

Newhouse told the Beachhead he signed on to the measure because, “we are finally reaching a point where development of alternative energies and green jobs are backed by significant political will, and have become much more mainstream concepts.”

Aside from Newhouse, most Neighborhood Council leaders around L.A. are strongly opposed to Measure B, seeing it as an end-run around their organizations. In addition, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition (LANCC), an umbrella group, is fighting the measure.

Soledad Garcia, President of the LANCC’s DWP Committee, told the Beachhead that “the City did not provide voters with the costs analysis, adequate plans, evidence of resources and enough workforce numbers to complete the plan within the time line.” She also believes that the neighborhood councils were not provided with adequate input. “Voters are being asked to pass the solar program without providing them costs until after the elections,” added Garcia. Not so, says Newhouse, “The City Council took a public vote on this matter, and voted unanimously that Measure B go on the ballot.” 

Dede Audet is also concerned that rates will increase drastically if the measure is passed. She says the City is claiming it will receive tax credits and deductions that are not available to the DWP under the solar proposal that will appear on the ballot.

In addition, it seems to this reporter that an undercurrent of anti-unionism runs through the opposition. Not all opponents are anti-union by any means. In fact, one of the activists is a prominent retired union official, Humberto Camacho (He is also President of the Pico-Union Neighborhood Council.). 

However, some of the opponents attack the measure as being union inspired, and that it will create a monopoly for the IBEW. It is true that the measure mandates that all work be done by IBEW members, which could be a good thing, since they will all receive a union apprenticeship training program, good wages and benefits. Some opponents, including Ron Kaye, former managing editor of the L.A. Daily News, see this provision as simply increasing costs which, he says, will be borne by ratepayers. Some other neighborhood council leaders seem to be disposed to opposing unions on general principles and because they view them as a rival, perhaps the chief rival, to neighborhood councils for power in the city of Los Angeles.

In fact, the opponents, mostly from neighborhood councils, are lined up against nearly the entire Los Angeles power structure. The pro and con spending on Measure B is likely to be very lopsided in favor of labor, business and city hall. The outcome will be a landslide for Measure B unless the neighborhood councils surprise most observers and show that they really do represent the “average Joe’s” of L.A. and have the ability to turn them out. The NCs have a lot riding on this election, including their own credibility.

Councilperson Bill Rosendahl has not yet taken a stand on Measure B. He told the Beachhead that he voted for placing it on the ballot, with the understanding that voters would be told how much it will cost. Rosendahl, and the public, may find out the price tag at a town hall he is sponsoring at 7 p.m. on Feb. 17 at Daniel Webster Middle School, 11330 West Graham Place. DWP representatives are expected to speak.

Opponents of Measure B act as if all the problems associated with Measure B are a fluke, and not business as usual for the city. It is hard for this reporter to envision a “clean” solar power proposition where no one is on the take, and where the residents of the city are not taken for a ride. Like most other actions taken by the city, this one will cost much more than it needs to cost, will be inefficient, and will likely result in future scandals that will keep the media busy for years to come. Yet, the question has to be asked: how else will we ever get solar power in this city?

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