Editor’s Note: Here’s the full LA Times editorial on Measure B.
The proposed charter amendment and ordinance proposition is less about solar energy than it is a grab for political power.
Set aside, for a moment, the secretive and rushed process to get the
March 3 solar power charter amendment commonly known as Measure B on
the ballot, the disingenuous campaign for it and the outrageous
attempts to make voters equate this measure with the city’s entire
solar energy program. The question The Times sought to answer in the
weeks it has examined the measure was whether, if passed, it would
leave Los Angeles and its residents better off than they would be
We conclude that it would not, and that it would in
fact undermine both the city’s solar energy efforts and its political
oversight and accountability. The Times urges a no vote on Measure B.
Let’s start with some
basics. First, despite false claims you’ll read in ballot arguments and
see on the city’s cable channel, the solar power to be created under
the program would not hasten the shutdown of any coal plant or
otherwise replace the fossil fuel burning that generates the city’s
electric power. It would generate power only when the sun is shining,
and although there is nothing wrong with that, that “peaking power”
would supplement, but could never replace, the noxious coal burning
that has long made the city’s energy so inexpensive. Department of
Water and Power officials acknowledge that.
Second, the warring
“studies” on the cost to ratepayers are inconclusive, no matter how the
campaigns try to spin them. Sunshine is free, but converting it to
usable electricity is not. DWP and union officials acknowledge that
solar power will likely never be as cheap as coal is today. But it’s
equally true that the cost of burning coal will soon rise to reflect
its effect on the environment. The most straightforward statement on
costs comes in the financial impact statement in your ballot, which
notes that the DWP would draft (and the City Council would approve or
modify) an implementation plan, and until then, “the specific costs and
financial benefits of the program cannot be determined.”
third: Much of what Measure B promises to deliver is good; The Times
wants it, and Los Angeles needs it. A program to produce at least 400
megawatts of power from the sunshinethat beats down on the
city’s rooftops makes perfect sense, and the DWP should get moving on
such a program. There’s also nothing wrong with trying to make the city
the capital of solar power generation and manufacturing, or with trying
to create new solar-related jobs.
of those things without Measure B. In fact, the DWP is already working
on programs to generate about 900 megawatts of solar power, and it
didn’t stop to ask voter permission. It should do the same with the 400
megawatts of in-basin rooftop energy.
So it ought to make voters
wonder: Why is Measure B on the ballot, if it’s not needed to produce
the energy? Proponents say they’re acting out of concern for full
disclosure and transparency. That’s simply laughable.
else is going on here. It’s a grab for power — the political kind, not
the solar stuff — by the City Council and the union that represents
DWP workers. That might be OK if it got the city its best possible
solar program, but it doesn’t. Measure B doesn’t even make clear what
the city’s solar program will be. It simply sets a goal, requires the
DWP to create a plan, then allows the City Council to adopt it or not,
as it sees fit.
The important parts are not in the ballot
arguments or the campaign literature. Measure B, if passed, would
transfer oversight of in-basin solar power from a five-member
commission, with at least a modicum of political independence, to the
City Council. But because the measure would allow the council to change
or suspend everything that’s in it, the council’s new authority would
not be accompanied by new accountability.
On the contrary, this
measure would give the council sweeping political cover. If it’s in the
council’s interest to proceed with the plan, it can claim voters told
them to do it. If it’s in the council’s interest to stop well short of
the 400 megawatts the voters think they’re getting, they can claim
voters told them to do it.
Meanwhile, instead of having
guaranteed themselves 400 megawatts of in-basin solar power, voters,
perhaps unwittingly, will have waded into the middle of an ongoing
policy battle over whether private enterprise could make solar energy
production more efficient by being allowed to sell or distribute excess
energy. Measure B would eliminate much of the private role. In so
doing, it would protect the city’s utility and its union jobs, and
that’s not necessarily a bad thing — but it’s not what most voters
believe they have been asked to decide.
This is an
extraordinarily bad way to make policy, and it is becoming typical of
the way Los Angeles operates — though Measure B breaks new ground in
hiding the truth from the public. It’s a City Hall measure presented as
though it were a voter-sponsored initiative to demand that city leaders
take some particular action. In fact, it’s the city leaders who crafted
this measure, supposedly to instruct themselves to do something, but in
fact to get preemptive absolution from the electorate.
Angeles can have smart solar power without a deceptive and rushed
charter amendment. The Times urges voters to reject this cynical
attempt to manipulate the policymaking process. Vote no on Measure B.