City of Los Angeles Solar Panels, Proposition B (March 2009)

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City of Los Angeles Measure B, also known as the Green Energy and Good Jobs for Los Angeles Act or the Solar B, was a proposed city ordinance to install 400 megawatts of solar panels around the city of Los Angeles, California. The measure was on the March 3, 2009 ballot in Los Angeles, California[1] and was narrowly defeated by a margin of 50.5% to 49.5%.[2]

Election results

Los Angeles Solar B
Yes or no Votes Percentage
Yes 129,925 49.5%
Defeatedd No 132,569 50.5%
Total votes 262,494

Supporters

Arguments in favor

  • The ballot measure is environmentally-friendly and would help to implement The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.[3]
  • The work of installing solar panels will provide jobs for LA residents and "jumpstart the green economy," according to Mayor Villaraigosa's website[4].
  • The solar panels will be contracted locally--a stimulus for the California economy[5].
  • Spokeswoman Sarah Leonard said, "Measure B is supported by a broad coalition of environmental, health and labor organizations across Los Angeles."[1].
  • Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also supported the solar plan.
Solar panel.jpeg

Donors

As of January 14th, the campaign had raised over $267,000.[6]. Most of the funds came from affiliations of the union of the Department of Water and Power (DWP) employees.

  • $50,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Local 18
  • $75,000 from the IBEW Educational Committee
  • $45,000 from Working Californians. This group is run by two IBEW officials.[7]
  • $10,000 from State Controller John Perez (D-Los Angeles)
  • $20,000 from Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar)

Role of IBEW


Bill Corcoran of the Sierra Club speaks in favor of Measure B

Measure B was proposed by the group Working Californians. This group included Brian D'Arcy, who at the time was the business manager of IBEW Local 34. IBEW Local 34 represents DWP workers. Under the terms of Measure B, DWP workers would be required to do all the solar panel installation.[8]

Path to the ballot

Measure B was put on the March 3 ballot in a vote of the Los Angeles City Council in a process that drew criticism. Councilman Bill Rosendahl said he voted to put the measure on the ballot so he and the other members of the City Council could learn more about it. Councilman Greig Smith announced that he regretted voting hastily to put the measure on the ballot.[9][5][10]

According to the Los Angeles Weekly, "City Hall observers and Los Angeles activists demanded to know who stood to gain the most from an unusually rushed decision to put it on the ballot. Many critics began pointing to a politically connected union that employs about 8,000 Department of Water and Power workers — and that openly brags about its aggressiveness in getting its way inside City Hall."[11]

Community activist Michael Cohen argued that opposition to Proposition B was due to a lack of outreach and research, in addition to questions about its effectiveness in reaching stated goals.[12]

If Measure B had been approved, the city's Department of Water and Power (DWP) would have placed solar photovoltaic systems throughout the city and connected them to the city's existing electrical grid. Solar photovoltaic systems convert sunlight to electricity. DWP would own and maintain the solar panels.[13]

In 2008, the DWP levied a three-year 8.7% increase in power rates. It was estimated that the Solar Panel project would add 2%-4% more on the average utility bill.[8]

Mail-in voting on Measure B began Monday, February 2.

February 2008 planning meeting revealed

The Los Angeles Times did an investigative report on February 2 which showed that although Measure B seemed to "come out of nowhere" in November 2008 when the city council put it on the ballot, DWP's David Nahai began discussing the solar plan with its IBEW/Working California proponents in February 2008. Nahai:

  • Requested financial information from the DWP employee union that conceived the idea.
  • Sent the DWP's chief operating officer, Raman Raj, to a February 29, 2008, briefing where union officials proposed the idea of a ballot measure and presented polling data showing it would secure support from two-thirds of voters.
  • At the February 29 meeting, union leader D'Arcy said the DWP would own all of the panels, with installation split between his local and IBEW Local 11.

The Los Angeles Times obtained this information through a public records request.

Questioned about this, Nahai said he did not know with certainty until late September that Working Californians had decided to go ahead with the ballot measure, that the details of the proposal kept changing, and that therefore he cannot have been expected to have prepared a detailed financial analysis of the proposal.[10]

Organizations supporting Measure B

These groups endorsed Measure B:

  • The Sierra Club
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • League of Conservation Voters
  • Coalition for Clean Air
  • Heal the Bay
  • American Lung Association[14]

Opponents


Measure B opponent explains position

Opposing arguments

  • The measure will result in a monopoly, since the Department of Water and Power would own all of the solar panels.[1]
  • Only the unions would benefit, not the public.[9]
  • An analysis by a consulting-firm hired by the city indicated that the project would be much more costly than previously thought, calling it "extremely risky." This would result in higher utility rates from the DWP and higher taxes. The analysis was disregarded by certain public officials.[15]
  • The measure would hurt the economy by taking money from California taxpayers and sending it overseas to solar panel manufacturers.[16]
  • Some people believed that Measure B was "nothing but a payoff to the IBEW"[17].
  • The Los Angeles Times editorial board objected to the fact that "the process seems designed to get voters to sign off on a plan without sufficient knowledge of it, and it is undermining a broader discussion of solar power in Los Angeles. There is a point at which process gets so bad that it outweighs substance, no matter how good that substance may be. We're rapidly approaching that point."[18]

Donors to the opposition campaign

  • $1,000 from Mayoral candidate David Hernandez
  • $500 from City Controller candidate Nick Patsaouras

Newspapers

Newspapers that editorialized in favor of a "no" vote on Measure B included:

  • The Los Angeles Times. On February 26, the LA Times wrote a strongly-worded editorial encouraging its readers to "vote no" on Measure B. Some of their arguments:
  • "It is a grab for political power."
  • "It would ... undermine both the city's solar energy efforts and its political oversight and accountability."
  • Solar power created if Measure B were implemented would not, contrary to what the newspaper calls "false arguments" put forward by Measure B supporters, "hasten the shutdown of any coal plant or otherwise replace the fossil fuel burning that generates the city's electric power."
  • The costs of the program are unknown, so voters would be voting for an unknown financial burden.
  • There's nothing to stop the city from installing the solar panels advocated in Measure B. The reason Measure B is on the ballot is because it effects a transfer of power from a relatively independent board (the DWP) to the City Council, and it does this, the paper says, for purely political reasons which end up reducing accountability.[19][20]

Disputed cost analysis

As of January 26, 2009, no cost analysis has been produced that would allow voters to perform a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed project. When the Solar Initiative was put on the ballot, DWP and supportive city officials promised that there would be a cost analysis "long before voters had to go to the polls." This led the Los Angeles Daily News to editorialize, "It's a good idea executed in such a rushed and hushed manner that it feels as if we're being scammed" and "It's appalling that city leaders pushed to get a measure on the ballot without saying or knowing how much it's going to cost Angelenos. Worse, that detailed financial information or vetting will not be contained in the ballot information and arguments, which already had gone to print."[23]

The Los Angeles Daily News obtained a draft audit of the Department of Water and Power by an outside consulting firm that says the project could cost more than double the current cost estimate. The outside consulting firm, PA Knowledge Limited, estimates the cost of the project at $2.8 billion to $3.6 billion, versus the $1.5 billion estimate that DWP is providing.[8]

The outside report also says:

  • "Without significant technology advances and yet unseen economies of scale, it would be challenging at best for LADWP to be able to implement the plan for the current $1.5 billion low estimate LADWP has provided."
  • The report questions the ability of DWP management to do long-term planning and analysis.
  • The report questions whether the city is eligible to receive solar tax credits from the federal government since it is a public agency that pays no taxes.
  • The report says that rooftop panels will generate only about 20 percent of the capacity the DWP needs.[24]

Consultants' report

PA Consulting Group was hired by the city to analyze the project.[25] PA Consulting was doubtful about how the project was planned and advised the City Council to delay the proposal. But, according to Council President Eric Garcetti, another consulting firm, Huron, disagreed with PA's report and declared the plan perfectly doable.[26] PA Consulting was also reported as saying that plan "would cost far more than the $1.5 billion the Council had suggested, and was fraught with risk to Los Angeles taxpayers."[15][11]

Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick has referred to the way the ballot measure was put on the ballot as "anti-transparency" in part because of how the consulting firm's report was handled. In an interview on Larry Mantle's "Air Talk" show on December 23, aired on KPCC, she said:

"We hear that taxpayer dollars were spent for outside consultant expert advice ....and that advice it seems was suppressed, suppressed even within the council. And certainly to the public … including really some disingenuous efforts made to deny the existence of the report and to keep this information hidden and secret."[27]

Change in DWP leadership

In late January, the leadership of the Department of Water and Power (DWP) -- the agency that will be charged with overseeing implementation of Proposition B, if it passes -- was changed. The Los Angeles City Council approved Jonathan Parfrey to oversee the agency. Parfrey was Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's choice. The seat was formerly occupied by DWP Commission President Nick Patsaouras. Patsaoras resigned from the DWP board and announced his campaign for city controller when Measure B was unveiled.

During LA council deliberations over whether to approve him for the top DWP spot, Parfrey criticized David Nahai, the DWP's general manager, for how Nahai handled Measure B. Parfrey said that he is a "huge supporter" of the plan.

At the same time that Parfrey was expressing his support for Measure B, he also criticized Nahai and Patsaouras for failing to hold a full board discussion of the solar proposal.

Parfrey is the head of Green L.A. Green L.A. is an environmental coalition that lobbies for its preferred environmental legislation. Parfrey was registered with the Ethics Commission as a lobbyist for Liberty Hill Foundation until December 11, 2008, which is the day that Villaraigosa nominated him to serve on the DWP board.[28]

Parfrey attended a February 2008 union-sponsored planning meeting for pushing the ballot measure, but did not tell the City Council when he was confirmed about his attendance at that meeting.[10]

Aftermath

After the measure failed by a narrow margin, supporters voiced their continued support for the plans that had been written into the ordinance. According to The Los Angeles Times, "Environmentalists, labor leaders and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said they would continue to press the municipal utility to achieve Measure B's core mission: the installation of 400 megawatts of DWP-owned solar panels throughout the city, and on city-owned property, by 2014."[29]

Ballot question

The question on the ballot:

Proposition B: "Shall the Charter and Administrative Code be amended to authorize creation of a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power program to require production of at least 400 megawatts of solar power energy by 2014; provide for voluntary participation in the program by commercial, industrial, and institutional customers to allow installation of solar power systems on their property which would be operated and maintained by the Department in exchange for potential incentives; establish a jobs program and training academy to meet program participation demand; provide contract bid preferences for local solar power equipment manufacturers; require quarterly oversight committee reports and annual City Controller audit; and utilize a variety of funding mechanisms?"[30]

See also

External links

Los Angeles Times links

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 LA Times: "L.A. solar plan fueled by union groups," Jan. 14, 2009
  2. Certified Election Returns for March 3 Election
  3. The Policy Report: "Los Angeles Measure B Will Aid In Successful Implementation of AB 32," Jan. 12, 2009
  4. Mayor Villaraigosa and the solar plan
  5. 5.0 5.1 The Policy Report:"Los Angeles Measure B Will Bring Significant Renewable Energy To The City," Jan. 5, 2009
  6. L.A. Times:"Supporters raise $267,000 for solar energy ballot measure ," Jan. 15, 2009
  7. Alternative Energy Online, "L.A. Solar Ballot Measure Collects Union Money," January 15, 2009
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Contra Costa Times, "Solar panel initiative getting costlier," January 31, 2009
  9. 9.0 9.1 City Watch LA, "Is LA Now Bartertown?," January 20, 2009
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Los Angeles Times, "DWP solar plan was rushed to ballot," February 2, 2009
  11. 11.0 11.1 Los Angeles Weekly, "L.A.'s Solar-Energy Ballot-Measure Melodrama," January 14, 2009
  12. City Watch LA, "Last Word on the DWP MOU Debate?," January 30, 2009 (dead link)
  13. Los Angeles Daily News, "Solar energy remains a hot idea, despite flap," December 30, 2008
  14. Los Angeles Weekly, "It pays to be green," February 18, 2009
  15. 15.0 15.1 L.A. Times:"Analysis calls ambitious L.A. solar plan 'extremely risky'," Dec. 19, 2008
  16. Blog Los Angeles (dead link)
  17. Ron Kaye L.A. blog
  18. Los Angeles Times, "Measure B: L.A.'s secret solar plan," January 29, 2009
  19. Los Angeles Times, "In Today's Pages, Solar Power," February 26, 2009
  20. Los Angeles Times, "Vote no on Charter Amendment B," February 26, 2009
  21. LA Observed, "Daily News goes no on B," February 23, 2009
  22. Los Angeles Daily News, "Solar power? Healthy local industries? We say yes to both but no to March 3 city measures that change our charter," February 21, 2009
  23. Los Angeles Daily News, "In the Dark," January 24, 2009
  24. PA Knowledge Limited audit of DWP and Solar Measure B
  25. PRNewswire Yahoo Finance, "PA Consulting Group Issues Statement on 'Measure B'," Friday February 27, 2009, 5:39pm EST (dead link)
  26. LA News, "Debate Flares Over Solar Panels Measure," Tuesday February 3, 2009
  27. City Watch LA, "This is an Anti-Transparency City Hall," December 23, 2009
  28. Los Angeles Times, "Villaraigosa's DWP pick criticized general manager," January 23, 2009
  29. Los Angeles Times, "Measure B proponents continue to push solar power plan," March 21, 2009
  30. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.

Additional reading