Supervisors reject SFPUC budget as clean energy battle with mayor escalates

Cindy Chew/2007 S.F. examiner file photoThe Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee rejected the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's proposed budget Wednesday amid an ongoing debate with Mayor Ed Lee over the CleanPowerSF program.

San Francisco’s fight between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors over a clean-energy program escalated Wednesday when the proposed budget of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission was rejected by a board committee in what may be a first for any city department.
While the department’s delivery of water and electricity is not expected to be impacted since there is time for further negotiations, the budget and finance committee’s denial sent a message that it will not tolerate Mayor Ed Lee’s decision to eliminate the $19.5 million set-aside for CleanPowerSF. The mayor, who has argued that the money should be used for other services, opposed the program.

The funding cut was viewed as a death knell for CleanPowerSF, a community-choice aggregation program, which is allowed under a 2002 state law and would compete with PG&E by offering customers 100 percent renewable energy. [jump]
In August, the commission rejected the rates for the program, which has been in the planning stages for more than a decade. That controversial vote ignited a political battle that apparently isn’t going away. Since the rate rejection, the SFPUC has announced it is facing a fiscal cliff with dire capital investment needs. The agency has defended its use of the funds for other purposes such as solar installation subsidies and street lights.

But program supporters allege the mayor and SFPUC will use any excuse to scrap the program under pressure from PG&E. “We have been stonewalled by this administration, by the Public Utility Commission and also I believe by the staff at the PUC,” said Supervisor John Avalos, who led the charge to reject the budget. He was supported by supervisors Eric Mar and London Breed. Supervisors Scott Wiener and Mark Farrell opposed the rejection.

Avalos said it would take the perhaps unprecedented action to force a meaningful discussion.

Farrell said he was “frightened” about what the rejection would portend for the rest of the year’s budget deliberations.
The mayor can now re-submit a budget with changes that satisfy Avalos and his backers, or submit the same proposal and have yet another political showdown. The budget proposal is part of the overall city budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey said the mayor already “spent a considerable amount of time” on the budget plan. “The mayor doesn’t believe that the billion-dollar budget … should be held up based on a program that clearly the commissioners thought was a risky proposal,” Falvey said.

Avalos, who likened the debate to a train wreck in the making, said, “I feel like we are heading towards the cliff.”

Marin County was the first in the state to create such a community choice program. This month, Sonoma County launched Sonoma Clean Power. Hopeful San Francisco will one day join the club, Breed said, “We are not prepared to back down.”

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