Ballot Initiative for Public Power Falters in Northern California

By DAVID CAY JOHNSTON Published: November 9, 2006

A push to replace a corporate-owned electric utility with public power in Yolo County, Calif., west of Sacramento, failed a test on Tuesday when voters passed only one of the three measures needed to make the change.

The vote on the ballot initiative had been closely watched by consumers elsewhere in the country looking to expand the use of publicly owned power as a way to provide cheaper electricity.

Had all three measures passed, 77,000 customers would have switched to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, a public agency with an elected board, from the private Pacific Gas and Electric. The measure to join the Sacramento district won narrowly, with 20,400 votes in favor and 19,955 opposed, the Yolo County clerk-recorder's office said. A second measure, to revoke P.G.& E.'s franchise, lost by 345 votes. In Sacramento County and part of Placer County, where the district's current voters had to agree to the annexation, 62 percent said no.

P.G.& E. shareholders spent about $11 million to oppose the campaign, the company said. That is about nine times what the proponents spent.

Advocates of the change said they would continue seeking to replace the utility with public power, an issue that has caught hold in towns in Colorado, Iowa, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Brian Micek, campaign manager for proponents in Davis, Calif., said, ''It took 23 years for the founders of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District to create it and we have only been at this 9 years.''

He added, ''Taking on P.G.& E., an entrenched monopoly that has been around for 100 years and has lots of ties in the political system, is a monumental task.''

P.G.& E. said that "our success going forward will be defined more by our relationship to our customers" and promised to serve them "better, faster and more cost-effectively."