Dave Rice 2:29 p.m., Dec. 5
The Fix San Diego Politicians, Developers, and People Reporting to Public Utility Shareholders are in
In a strange twist of political fate along a long local strand with no end in sight, Mayor Jerry Sanders last week vetoed a public vote on his own proposed leaner City Hall project to prove who is running the agenda downtown. Sanders, informed by the out-of-town project developer that the logistics of a three-month political campaign in support would probably not yield the proper anticipated strategic outcome, promptly vetoed the City Council measure to submit his new downsized city citadel proposal to the voters.
The veto came as City Council members scrambled to find support for a sales tax increase that may or may not wind up before the voters in November, depending on who does or does not support the required City worker pension reforms and other City budget reforms that are part of the sales tax increase proposal. It should speak volumes that most municipal workers see no problem with raising the sales tax in the City of San Diego when most voters are still not convinced that raising a new City Hall is the cure for a budget that is permanently out of whack.
The Mayor's veto comes only weeks after losing a court fight to prevent the inquisition of a plaintiff's deposition in the matter of Scott Kessler v. City of San Diego, a wrongful eviction case where Kessler, a former city staffer, alleges that the Mayor or others under the Mayor had him fired after Kessler cooperated in multiple investigations regarding questionable Housing and Urban Development loan disbursements to local redevelopment entities and also for business improvement district financing of private businesses owned and operated by district officials. Other questions surround the possible mayoral involvement in the absence of a District Attorney's prosecution at the conclusion of the FBI, San Diego Police, and HUD Inspector General investigations where Kessler was involved as a city employee. At a recent hearing, the Superior Court has characterized the matter as a whistle-blower action.
Under some public pressure, the City Council that voted to put the City Hall project on the November ballot is the same City Council and Redevelopment Agency board that has shelved a debt-and-interest-forgiveness action on the order of $288 million, where the Redevelopment Agency and subsidiary redevelopment entities owe that much to the City of San Diego for a lot of the same HUD community block grant money that was the object of the same HUD Inspector General investigation where Kessler was involved as a city employee. At the same time, insider maneuvering to increase the redevelopment corporations' private Tax Increment kitties is still pretty much under the surface, where the Tax Increment cap increase will mean that instead of keeping $2.98 billion in excess tax revenues from redevelopment of blighted areas, the redevelopment entities will be able to keep $9 billion that will most likely not be spent on vital city services, unless one classifies a new NFL stadium as a vital city service.
For $9 billion, even I can pack a stadium full of friendly friends. Bread and circuses, anyone?
At least, with a proposed Tax Increment cap increase of well over 200%, the redevelopment crowd can finally afford to settle with Carolyn Smith before the depositions of SEDC staffers and consultants start taking place in her brand new malicious unemployment lawsuit against the redevelopment corporation, where Smith couldn't find accountants to hire from anywhere and ended up instead using that accountant hiring money for friendly staff bonuses. Up to now, what's been known by Carolyn Smith about loose redevelopment accounting, postponed internal auditing, and the real reasons behind the contract rebidding in the Valencia Business Park project have stayed with Carolyn Smith.
In the meantime, belching smoke and mirrors like a carnival midway on top of a distant supervolcano, there are the rate hike proposals of San Diego Gas and Electric Company waiting to bury small businesses and local residence under the blowout fallout of higher hourly utility rates until we move out of daytime electricity usage. According to the Sempra Energy attorneys representing SDG&E before the California Public Utilities Commission, SDG&E's proposed PeakShift at Work/PeakShift at Home (PSW/PSH) rate hikes are designed to “incentify” small business and residential customers into using night-time and weekend electricity instead of daytime business-hour electricity by providing us a negative rate signal to leave that daytime business-hour for SDG&E's larger, industrial-sized customers to consume. In this experiment, enough electricity bill shock could produce that or other unanticipated results in us ratepayers, the lab rats in the SDG&E rate maze. Only time and money will tell.
Now, in SDG&E's CPUC application, the SDG&E attorneys state that the higher peak rate “incentive” to leave the bigger commercial customers alone during the day should result in no net increase in small business and residential consumer utility payments to SDG&E as the rest of us feel the incentive effect and start doing laundry and opening the refrigerator well after Happy Hour. On the other hand, if there was no net increase in SDG&E's anticipated revenue, then irritating us past the point that we all start buying off-grid solar panels and extension cords in a big way to live as we want to live and do business like we want to do business would make no sense to Sempra Energy shareholders, the kinds of natural and artificial persons who like their 35-40% of retained Sempra Energy earnings as quarterly utility-holding corporate dividends.
What most of us who have heard of (1) PSW/PSH rate hikes, and (2) the WEBA scheme to get all of us to pay for uninsured power utility wildfire negligence, have yet to figure out is how the regressive tax effect on both consumers and small local businesses of all of these SDG&E rate hike proposals is supposed to improve the overall San Diego economy to the point that we can actually afford the rate hikes.
Things have not gone well for utilities at the ballot box lately. PG&E spent over $30 million in shareholder equity to back its constitutional amendment Proposition 16 in the June primary, and it lost. In SDG&E's case, that vote if had been positive could have negated the local electricity franchise voting rights of San Diego consumers to amend the 1970 electricity franchise ordinance. The 3% annual franchise fee that SDG&E pays to the City of San Diego is a topic that the City Council has yet to explore in the face of $70 million or higher annual city budget deficits. It seems that there will be no City Council action to raise that fee whether SDG&E's PSW/PSH and WEBA rate hikes are approved by CPUC or not.
As it is, SDG&E has asked CPUC permission to charge all of us $118 million for SDG&E to inform us like a televised election campaign from this year until 2015 that PSW/PSH is good news for us, even if we actually have to lose sleep as a result to see any alleged benefits or the commercials we'd be paying for.
Neither the Mayor, City Council members wearing or not wearing their Redevelopment Agency hats, local chambers of commerce, nor Sempra Energy seem to know very much about what CPUC calls the first priority condition on Sempra Energy to infuse enough of its working and other capital into SDG&E that would prevent SDG&E's proposed rate hikes from killing off any likely chance that the local economy in San Diego will improve any time soon.
Maybe the voters in the City of San Diego need to take the kind of electricity franchise vote that the Mayor can't veto.
A realistic annual electricity franchise fee rate that will protect San Diego residents by putting power lines underground and actually reducing the threat of utility-caused wildfires, all while preventing outages from overhead equipment failures: Now that's a mayoral legacy to be proud of, every day.