Legal challenge to Prop 16 highlights PG&E chief’s statements as evidence of falsehood, misrepresentation

Lawyers for locally owned utilities challenging proposed amendment cite public admission that measure intends to ‘greatly diminish’ voting, rather than encourage it

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (April 29, 2010) — Lawyers for the coalition of locally-owned public utilities suing to disqualify the PG&E-sponsored Proposition 16 from the June 8 statewide ballot offered public statements by PG&E’s own chief executive as evidence that the utility’s proposed measure is false and misleading, and deliberately intended to conceal its true nature and purpose from California’s voters. Proposition 16 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would impose a new two-thirds majority vote threshold before public entities in California could extend virtually any energy services program for the benefit of ratepayers or the environment.

According to the petitioners’ reply brief filed in Sacramento County Superior Court late yesterday, an apparently unguarded public exchange between PG&E Corporation Chairman, CEO and President Peter A. Darbee and a stockholder at the company’s March 1, 2010 investor conference revealed that the purportedly pro-vote measure actually aims to “greatly diminish” voting, discourage elections, and relieve PG&E from “having to spend millions and millions of shareholder dollars” to campaign against competing energy programs. Darbee’s bombshell emerged in response to a question about the decision making behind proposing the measure. Darbee replied that the “idea was to diminish. You know, rather than year after year different communities coming in [as] this or that and putting this up for vote and us having to spend millions and millions of shareholder dollars to defend it repeatedly, we felt that this was a way that we could sort of diminish that level. . . .” A few minutes later, Darbee summarized the impetus and purpose of the initiative: “So it was really a decision about could we greatly diminish this kind of activity [votes on competing energy programs] for all going forward . . . .”

Prop 16 Reply Brief Presskit (Apr. 29, 2010)
Prop 16 Reply Brief Presskit (Apr. 29, 2010)

Yet despite the company CEO’s admission to investors that the ballot measure intends to “greatly diminish” voting, PG&E has spent tens of millions of dollars to draft, qualify and campaign for Proposition 16 as an ostensibly “pro-vote” initiative — even self-entitling it, the “Taxpayers Right to Vote Act.” The concealment inherent in the PG&E-sponsored initiative is at the heart of the civil lawsuit filed on March 18, 2010 by a coalition of locally-owned public utilities from throughout California, which includes the Modesto Irrigation District, the Merced Irrigation District, the City of Moreno Valley, the City of Redding, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission, the City and County of San Francisco, the San Joaquin Valley Power Authority, and the California Municipal Utilities Association.

The case is Modesto Irrigation District et al. v. Debra Bowen et al., Sacramento County Superior Court, Case No. 34-2010-80000478, filed March 18, 2010.