The most contentious issue facing San Francisco voters on the November ballot is Proposition H, which has been called the “Clean Energy Act” by its supporters and the “Blank Check Initiative” by its opponents. It seeks to amend San Francisco’s charter “to require The City to transition from fossil fuels to clean, non-nuclear, sustainable energy production at affordable rates” by purchasing Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), a local private supplier of electric power.
Critics have denounced Proposition H as a sneaky attempt by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to arrogate to itself the power to issue revenue bonds to take over PG&E or any other utility without the vote of the people.
This “public power” measure has been the pet project and obsession of the publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Bruce B. Brugmann, who has placed three similar propositions on the San Francisco ballot in the last six years, all of which have failed.
Millions of dollars are currently being spent on both sides of this measure, pitting advocates of clean energy with those who believe that spending $4 billion of the city taxpayers’ money to purchase PG&E is outrageous.
No matter how many times this issue has failed to win the approval of the voters (four times in the last ten years), Brugmann persists in putting it on the ballot, believing that he will eventually wear down the opposition to his will.
Brugmann’s first attempt to push The City to purchase PG&E occurred in 1991 when he successfully convinced eight out of the 11 members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to support his proposal. The next step in the process was to get the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to (SFPUC) to go along with the Board of Supervisors.
I was appointed to the SFPUC in 1987 by Mayor Art Agnos, the first Filipino American to be appointed to a major commission in the city. I served two terms as president of the commission until February of 1991, when Mayor Agnos appointed me to the San Francisco Community College Board to fill the position left vacant by the election of Trustee Julie Tang to the San Francisco Superior Court in the November 1990 elections.
I was to be sworn in to my new position as College Board Trustee on the last Thursday of February 1991. Before transferring over to the College Board, however, I had one last SFPUC meeting to attend, which was set for the third Tuesday in February. And it was the meeting where the SFPUC would vote on the Brugmann resolution.
Out of the five members of the SFPUC, two were in favor of municipalization and two were against. I had not made up my mind on the issue, so I would be the deciding vote.
In the week leading up to the vote, I was furiously lobbied by proponents and opponents of the resolution. I read all the materials they provided, and I asked questions from the SFPUC staff to conduct my “due diligence” on the issue.
The day before the vote, I received a personal call from Mr. Brugmann. After introducing himself to me, he went straight to the point of his call. “If you don’t vote for this resolution,” he said, “I will personally see to it that you are never elected to public office in San Francisco.”
Why couldn’t he talk to me intelligently? Why couldn’t he just explain the benefits of public power? Why did he believe that threatening me was the best way to secure my vote?
Did he not know that I had stood up to the Marcos Dictatorship in the Philippines at great risk to myself and my family? Did he not know that I had close friends who were imprisoned, tortured and killed by Marcos and his goons, yet I never buckled to the threats of Marcos? Who did this tinhorn bully publisher think he was threatening me to either vote his way or the highway?
Brugmann must have believed himself truly powerful as the leader of the “progressives” in San Francisco, even though his weekly is filled with sex ads that blatantly exploit women and even though he has crushed every attempt by his workers to unionize.
“Mr. Brugmann,” I replied, “I do not appreciate your threatening me. If I voted in favor of your resolution because of your threat, I won’t deserve to be elected to any public office.” End of conversation.
After objectively weighing all the pros and cons of the issue, I voted against the municipalization of PG&E, a vote that would end Mr. Brugmann’s pet cause for the next 7 years.
There was hell to pay for my vote. Then-Supervisor Terrence Hallinan denounced me to a San Francisco Chronicle reporter as a “stooge of PG&E,” a charge that the San Francisco Bay Guardian would repeat over and over again after the vote and since then.
I really thought that was the end of my political career, quashed before it got off the ground. With the mighty San Francisco Bay Guardian urging voters not to vote for me, there was no way I could retain my seat in the College Board in the November 1992 elections.
Even though the Bay Guardian has a weekly circulation of 150,000 copies, I won in 1992, 1996, 2000 and again in 2004-all with the Bay Guardian urging its readers not to vote for me. This year, I am running for re-election, again without the endorsement of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, which did not even bother to invite me to be interviewed.
And once again, I oppose this public power measure that I believe will hurt our community-our seniors and future generations of San Franciscans who would be saddled with $4 billion or more in debt to take over an electric system that has provided service to our City for more than 100 years. As an elected official, I strongly believe that our primary responsibility is to protect the financial interests of the taxpayers-not to waste or misappropriate public funds. This is why I opposed Brugmann’s public power initiative17 years ago and that is why I oppose it now.
Vote No on Proposition H!
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