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Watching City Hall

by h. brown

We have to trust staff on this.
— LAFCo Chair Neil Eisenberg

You know me. I hate to nit-pick. It’s too much like work. Stiiiillll … I also love to say “I told you so.” This LAFCo Sphere of Influence thing offers a hell of an opportunity for me to be in that rare position of being the only one in class who did the homework.

Yes, I did the homework. Let me explain with the breadth and clarity that only I bring to such a complicated issue.

Most people in San Francisco think that PG&E has been ripping off the public. Many thousands of the city’s voters signed petitions last year to put a measure on the November ballot which would allow the city to form its own power agency. It did not get to the ballot because the present city attorney threw up a series of roadblocks to make certain it did not get there.

The last Board of Supervisors thought this was hella cool. The voters smoked that board. Now we have a new board and there are two public power measures on the ballot next month! Given the fact that PG&E had sunk to the depths of bankruptcy you’d think the chances of the city finally fielding their own public power crew were greatly improved.

Maybe not.

You see, while PG&E may have lost the retirement nest eggs of countless oldsters (including their own workers), the courts decided to keep its pockets full. The firm was given $17 million in bonus money for the senior staff. Bonuses for failing!! Damn, I could be big in that organization.

And they’re allowed to spend millions more to do TV ads and mailers and door hangers & lobbyists & … and … now, don’t quote me on this, but I think they may have bought a meal & a drink for a journalist or two along the way.

Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, PG&E sinks to the true bottom of the barrel. It hires lawyers. Lotsa lawyers. Male. Female. Tall & short. Fat & skinny. Pretty & ugly. They can fill a biiiggg meeting room. After all, you’re paying for them. Oh, they’re good. They can put whipped cream & a big red cherry on a pile of doggie doo & sell it to the public as a “PG&E Sundae.” (Don’t ask how I know that.)

Last year PG&E’s lawyers made certain you didn’t get to vote for public power. This year, before you even get to vote, they are trying to make certain that no matter how you vote, they’ll maintain control. They’re looking for any reason to sue. A misplaced comma. A document filed late.

That last one is the one I’m talking about today.

When PG&E kept public power off the ballot last year, they used the excuse that the voters couldn’t vote (although tens of thousands said they wanted to) … couldn’t vote until a duly constituted Local Agency Formation Commission had been created. So it was, and then the LAFCo had to jump through lots of fiery hoops (held by PG&E lawyers).

Miss a hoop & PG&E kept power. Even if LAFCo made all the right moves, lawsuits were a certainty. PG&E’s lawyers kept Sacramento Public Power in court for 25 years! The San Francisco LAFCO (chaired by city attorney candidate Neil Eisenberg) is in the fiery hoop stages right now, and it ain’t pretty.

What is a Sphere of Influence Study? It’s kind of like the history of the world only longer. And, of course, more complicated.

Eisenberg chose an ex-PG&E engineer named E.J. Simpson to do the study. He chose Simpson despite the fact that LAFCo Director Gloria Young recommended another firm of consultants. They gave Simpson just over six weeks to do the analysis. Young insisted that Simpson give her progress reports at two-week intervals.

Simpson’s first report came on September 10.

That was some week. While we were grieving, the Planning Commission met and approved a 22-story skyscraper for old folks despite the objections of the site’s neighbors. The governor took time out from his grief to ram through some late-night legislation allowing his contributors to sell personal information about you without your consent. And Gloria Young fired E.J. Simpson.

I like Ms. Young. I’m glad she got the LAFCo director’s job. However, I cannot for the life of me figure out why she sent Simpson packing. Particularly since her move almost certainly made it impossible for LAFCo to have a completed study by October 10. She didn’t try and guide his work. She flat told him to stop his work. They were smiling big smiles at PG&E.

I asked Director Young if the city attorney’s office had advised her to fire Simpson & she said it was her own recommendation.


She announced her decision on Friday the 14th but accepted more work from Simpson on that date. She said it still wasn’t good enough. I read both drafts of Simpson’s work as well as the 3rd draft he turned into LAFCo the next week & they were just fine, thank you. When I talked to Director Young for this piece, she said she had not read the 3rd draft.

Eisenberg & Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, sitting as a LAFCo subcommittee, talked about a peer review to save Simpson’s reputation if not public power here. We’ll see where that goes.

I have some questions that were never answered to my satisfaction.

The report’s 3rd draft is more than adequate to meet the “Description of Services … to be provided by contractor” (Simpson). Still, no one will read the damned thing. Warren Hinckle has written two PG&E-slanted columns in the Examiner without reading ANY of the material.

Director Young billed LAFCo for 20 hours of work by the city attorney during September. Work for what? Was LAFCo’s worst enemy at it again? Young said in a memo to the Finance Committee on September 17 that she was “in the process of contracting for outside legal counsel.” BUT she fired Simpson On September 14! When I pointed out this inconsistency, Ms. Young said that “outside” counsel Don Maynor gave her his opinion that it was “within her power” to fire Simpson. When? Her own memo of the 17th suggests he wasn’t yet working for LAFCo.

Last but not least, on September 18 Director Young sent a memo to LAFCo subcommittee members Eisenberg & McGoldrick informing them of her reasons for firing Simpson. Hey, Matt Gonzalez is also on that subcommittee, and he wasn’t listed as an addressee. Given Eisenberg’s obvious capitulation, Gonzalez is the one supervisor I would expect to try and keep the Sphere of Influence Study and MUD on track. When I noted this, Ms. Young insisted that every member of the commission had seen her reasons for firing Simpson. A call to Gonzalez was not returned.

Trying hard in Willieville: sobone@juno.com

h. brown