Democracy is not a spectator sport!

10 Oct

Well, I feel like an American – I just returned about an hour ago from the CPUC hearing on the PG&E rate hike proposal. I feel like an American with a lap full of bullshit.

What did I tell you about these judges? Here we find ourselves with one Jeanne McKinney, Administrative Law Judge, flanked by a court reporter on the one hand, another man who ran the slide show, and a giant bald headed muscle man who was there to enforce the time limit.  

Pick out the security guy.

Pick out the security guy.  He turned out to be a big pussy cat, obviously intimidated by righteous old people.

Judge McKinney introduced herself with this explanation: “My black robes show my commitment to upholding the law…”   She went on to explain the proceedings. The time limit would be two minutes  (even though there weren’t that many speakers signed up).  She promised, “I will not interrupt you,” adding, “everybody should be careful not to interrupt or speak over each other…”  I don’t know if this comes from her training in mediation, or if she’s been to a few hearings where the public has got obstreperous, but she seemed prepared for a riot, being real sweet but firm, like a kindergarten teacher with license to paddle.

I was real impressed with the turn-out, on a workday afternoon, including people who’d driven from as far away as Taylorsville. There was a delegation from the Sutter County Taxpayers Association. I didn’t get to count the attendants, but I’d estimate at least 30 concerned citizens, ratepayers, business and home owners. These weren’t angry protesters, like those who who  came to the hearing in San Francisco last week.

But they were concerned, very anxious, and several of them besides me even angry about the rate “changes” proposed by PG&E.  All of them agreed that the proposal was, as one woman put it, “a slap in the face,” to those of us who’d tried to conserve.

The big news  to me was the announcement, not included in the notice I received in my bill, that these new rates would mean, “high usage customers may see their bills go down and low usage customers may see their bills go up.”  Read that again – I thought it was a typo, but as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, the judge read that line several times from the handout.  Our assembly passed a bill behind our backs, “lifting the cap on lower-tier rates…”  And here they come, like Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham, to rip off the poor to give cheaper rates to the rich.

What outraged me – and several other speakers mentioned this too – in the handout, which the judge of course read to us almost verbatim, it  says the CPUC’s “Core Principles for Rate Design Proposals” are supposed to “encourage conservation and energy efficiency…”  As Julian Zener, former member of the Chico Sustainability Task Force, pointed out, “this [change] actually incentivizes heavy use…”  He pointed out the social inequity of such a move – social equity was supposed to be a component of the city ‘s Sustainability program, but I sure as hell didn’t see any other members of the STF at the hearing. Maybe they’ll show up tonight at the 6:30 hearing,  and report back to me?

There were other outrages – the spin of this whole thing, the confusing language, the baldfaced contradictions – we really should have been circling that building with signs, we shouldn’t have participated. We should have blocked the driveway and stopped the hearing.  Again we have handed them our tacit consent – all they need is for us to show up at the hearing, so they can say they did their legal diligence in telling us about the hike. 

But, I wanted to vent, and I hoped to see others vent as well. I was not disappointed. Patricia Miller from Sutter County Taxpayers Association was the first speaker – right away I could feel my balls swelling up.  Miller reminded us, one of the rate increase notices we’d received in our bills over the last couple of years was to pay for the fines and infrastructural repairs in the wake of the San Bruno explosion.

A $1.4 billion fine – handed off to the ratepayers. Miller objected to that, and asked if we ratepayers would also be on the hook for the recent fine given to PG&E for “judge shopping” for these farcical hearings. Here’s the latest article I found – PG&E and CPUC are getting a colonoscopy from the FEDS!

I sure hope so anyway. This whole PG&E scam really needs to be investigated. There’s no accountability when the judge’s “prior experience includes serving as senior counsel to an independent energy producer and handling business disputes and transactions at two San Francisco law firms.”  I love the spin – that’s just a round-the-corral-don’t-step-in-bullshit way of saying “lawyer for a energy utility.” I can’t believe they don’t have to be straighter about that, and tell us which one. This woman didn’t deserve the respect we gave her, that facetious speech about her black robes – Jeanne, honey, you should be working under a red light.  

Miller’s husband Chuck stood up next – he poked at the judge, asking her questions about the “green” energy plans Jerry Brown has put in place – have they gone anywhere? He already knew the answer – NO! But the judge just repeated that she was not there to answer questions about PG&E, just the “proceedings“.   Miller was right to bring it up – Governor Brown has mandated  33% of power be generated by “green” sources, and that has raised our rates with no real results. We’re still on the grid, we’re still paying for power shipped in from who-knows-where at what “real cost.” Judge politely answered that she couldn’t answer his questions.

Even with the outrages we were hearing, people continued to be polite. The third speaker, Paul Sullivan from Chico, complained that “raising prices on the low users – people who struggle to pay $150 bill – we feel that would be detrimental…”

Speaker after speaker complained that the new rates would be onerous for the poor.

Speaker after speaker complained that the new rates would be onerous for the poor.

Bill Brattigan came all the way from Taylorsville to attend. He joked that rate increases are good for him, he owns a solar business! Solar is getting cheaper, he says. He says, changing the tiered structure to give lower prices to the high users is hardly going to motivate people to go onto solar. He’s right – the new tier structure will reward high users, and punish low users. So why would anybody make the switch to solar? Furthermore, PG&E screws solar users – they give them 4 cents a kilowatt hour and then sell that for 35 – 50 cents. 

Several speakers complained that the pricing changes  would not be conducive to conservation, which is a core principal of the CPUC.

Several speakers complained that the pricing changes would not be conducive to conservation, which is a core principal of the CPUC.

I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the name of the next speaker, an 88 year old woman from Oroville, who complained that rates just keep going up, without explanation. When her bills for herself and her disabled vet son started climbing over $500 a month, folks at PG&E set her up on the CARE program – which currently cuts your bill by about 44 %.  But a few years later, they raised the maximum income, and she became ineligible, and “the bills started coming in again…”  She made a point that a couple of others had made – when they bought their house, years and years ago, they were told that they would  be paying some fees to set up infrastructure. But this woman says she’s seen housing fill in all around her, the infrastructure has been built and running for years, but those charges have not disappeared from her bills. I’ve seen many notices in which they say the charges will only last for a year and a half maybe – but my bill never goes down.  

Whose bill has gone down? Anybody?

Then this lady really dropped a bombshell – she was nervous by this point, they had  the red digital clock on the front table, ticking down the time. This lady used to work for Butte County Assessor’s office, she lived here in the 1950’s when Oroville Dam was built. She reported that the Dept. of Water Resources was talked into building all of PG&E’s infrastructure, it’s all on public property, and they pay no property taxes on this property that generates out power.  She said the assessor (gave no name) was upset that the property would be taken off the tax rolls. We all pay taxes on our homes, but PG&E pays no taxes on the property with which they generate billions of dollars a year. 

She left the podium telling everybody she’d only recently started reading “these little slips of paper” that come with her bill. Wow, did she feel taken, and encouraged everybody to be more vigilant. Thank you very much 88 year old lady, you kick ass. 

I was glad to see Julian Zener and Grace Marvin appear. Those two have really brought up some nuisance bullshit before Chico City Council – Zener was a member of Ann Schwab’s Sustainability Task Force, by which the city gave PG&E a golden ticket to screw  every resident of this town, in exchange for a $400,000 grant that was parceled out to members of the task force. I’m so sick of this corruption Downtown, I was surprise to see these two stand  up on their hind legs and bitch out PG&E. Zener pointed out the “discrepancy” between the CPUC’s stated goal of conservation and their new “rate changes”, as well as the social inequity of charging poor people more for energy than rich people. Then he pointed out a “discrepancy” between what PG&E will tell you on the phone and what they say on their website, regarding the details on solar power pricing. 

Grace Marvin described her efforts, time and expense that went into an energy analysis of her home, the lengths she has gone to to save money, the “thousands” she spent installing solar power – all for naught. Her family got WRAM’d as soon as the savings started rolling in. Remember WRAM is how they collect more money off you if you don’t use enough energy. “This doesn’t make sense,” she said, “it’s like a slap in the face.”   I must agree with her.

Mary Laprad came up to remind everybody that PG&E is a business. Businesses should roll expnses into their business operations, not pass them onto their customers. She described the rate increase notices as “continual. People who try to conserve are perennially hit with rate increases…”  If you pay attention to your bills, you see she’s right.

Beef farmer Marv Freeman (who may be a relative of mine, I will have to look him up) stood up to say PG&E drove him out of the dairy business, and now they charge him a $200 a month fee for each pump he runs to water his grass and his steers. Like me, Marv can’t just pass his expenses on to his customers, he just has to swallow these bills and go on. I can’t raise my rents just because my bills go up, and Marv can’t get more for his beef, his customers will walk away along with my tenants. He really summed it up good – “PG&E is too big to go broke, but I’m not…

Another man who came from the Sutter area was Robert MacLared. He was very nice, but reminded the judge, “No request from PG&E ever gets turned down…”  He also complained that changing the tiered rate would discourage conservation – “rates just keep going up.”

Then a local mobile home park owner, Larry Elliot, stood up in his work clothes, obviously a busy man. He had  humdinger of a problem – he has to pay his tenants’ PG&E bills, because it’s one big hook-up. He is not eligible for CARE, but has to give CARE rates to his tenants. So he is subsidizing his tenants’ power. Of course he can turn around and collect it back in their rent . Think about that Dummass, and get back to me – you can only squeeze so much out of people who can’t afford to live anywhere but a trailer park. So, they’re lowering the CARE payment from 44 to 32 percent – WHOA somebody has tied NELLY to the tracks! 

The notice I got said they were lowering CARE, but didn’t say how much.  The handout we received  said it would go from 44 to 32 percent. I think they will also close the orphanage and send a couple dozen old  ladies to a work house. 

That was the end of the public comment. The judge had kept her promise – even when speakers, including myself, went overtime, she didn’t say anything. I’m proud to say, I was the first speaker to shove that two minutes bullshit right back up her ass, and  I just ignored Mr. Ape (who was never introduced so I had to make a name for him) when he tried to eyebrow me off the podium.  After I sat down, the judge sent him out of the room to get this big red card that said “Time Up”. But the other speakers just ignored him when he’d hold it up. Almost everybody went over two minutes. 

But the hearing was  still over in under an  hour. What nerve she had to limit our comments like that, a whore of Babylon like her. I told her I wasn’t too happy about paying her pension, either, and she just sat there like she was getting an enema.

While I did see a few familiar faces, I didn’t  see one councilor or council candidate, I didn’t see my county supervisor, or any of our “local leaders.” I saw true leaders – if the public will lead, the leaders will follow.

As we were leaving I recognized former city council candidate, Chico businessman Ali Sarsour. Mr. Sarsour is a regular attendee at a lot of meetings, but he keeps his tongue. I have no idea what he is thinking, I wish he would speak up, I think he knows a lot of stuff. As we left the parking lot I noticed the bumper sticker on his car, “Democracy is not a spectator sport”. 





10 Responses to “Democracy is not a spectator sport!”

  1. alpetersen2014 October 10, 2014 at 7:28 am #

    I was at the 6:30 meeting with about 6 other people. Lupe-arim law was there as well as the owner of Chico electric. It was very short, over in 15 minutes. But i picked up material and I am tracking it. My beef is the discount that employees of pg&e get. We subsidize their energy use. How is that right?

    Al Petersen

    • Juanita Sumner October 10, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

      Thanks so much Al, for taking the time to follow this stuff and report back. I had so hoped for a better turnout, but sometimes it’s the people who turn out, not just how many.

      I had not heard that employees get a discount, on top of their sweet salaries and benefits. I want to do something about this. I guess I’ll start by writing letters to Gov. Brown, telling him we need to change the way these commissions are set up and operate.

  2. bob October 10, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

    Yes, they always get their increase. These hearings are a sham. Just let the peons blow off steam and pretend to care then screw ’em good.

    Judge McKinney introduced herself with this explanation: “My black robes show my commitment to upholding the law…

    No, she is nothing more than an arrogant thug in a government issued costume.

    What we have in this country is thugocracy and these hearings prove it. We might as well have show trials like they had in the former Soviet Union.

    Just one example of what a criminal operation this utility is…their gross negligence in San Bruno killed people and ruined the lives of many more yet no one went to jail, no one even got fired and we the rate payers get to pay for all the damages and now they’re gonna screw us even more.

    And yet we continue to pay whatever it says on the bill, whatever they demand and we attend their sham hearings and we vote for corrupt politicians who promise to make it all better and sing at the top of our longs Land of the Free and Home of the Brave and wave our little flags. More like Land of the Sheep and Home of the Slave. This so called democracy or republic or whatever you want to call it makes me sick.

    • Juanita Sumner October 11, 2014 at 6:24 am #

      Yes, land of the sheep and home of the slave, I hear you.

      I’m sorry I went along with the sham again, but at least the nasty remarks I made are part of the record, that turns my wheels a little. I complained about paying the judge’s salary and benefits and pension, and she just sat there with that weak little smile on her face, ready to tazer me if I stepped one inch beyond that podium. I talked well beyond the 2 minute cut-off, but the big ape didn’t have the nerve to move on me because I reminded him too much of his mother, and she would have cold-cocked him. After I walked away the judge announced they would be using the red card – oh me, oh my! The red card!

      But we need to take it up a notch. My next letters are going to be directed at Jerry The Moonbeam Brown, and I’m going to tell him he needs to step down, he’s getting senile, and he’s appointing the fox to guard the henhouse. I’m going to push for regional, voter-elected boards to replace the corrupt and horny CPUC.

      Anytime you want, I will make the signs, and we will take it to the PG&E office. Let’s see how long it takes them to call the cops Bob!

      • bob October 11, 2014 at 9:03 am #

        This world would be a much better place if everyone were like you. You’re a hero in my eyes (or I guess that should be heroine.)

        I’m surprised they let you have a camera in there and let you take pictures of the muscle man. These days you can be arrested just for video taping cops.

        Did you see this?

        Nearly $100K in campaign contributions to Chico City Council candidates

        And this was predictable. The Chico trough feeders are saying we need to be like Paradise and have a sales tax increase.

        Chico should follow Paradise’s lead on safety tax

      • Juanita Sumner October 11, 2014 at 11:16 am #

        I’m a wiener – well, I guess I would actually say, “weiner,” which in German is pronounced, “whiner.”

        I feel tired. I’m going to stay home and ruminate on these matters for awhile, come up with A Plan!

        Thanks Bob, stay tuned, I need your well wishes.

  3. bob October 11, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    The trough feeders in Paradise even have a Facebook page for their tax increase

    Paradise citizens? What a joke. It should be called Paradise city employees and retired city employees demand more of your money!

    • Juanita Sumner October 11, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

      no kidding – this is where we’ve been headed for some time. They stand right up and say, “we deserve these outrageous pensions,” like those old L’Oreal commercials, “we’re worth it!”

      The Stockton ruling should be the beginning of the end to all this stuff:

      Sorry it took me so long to get this up, Casey sent it a week ago. If this goes through, the precedent could affect not only our public but “quasi public” agencies like the utility companies.

      • bob October 11, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

        It just seems like an endless battle just to keep things from getting worse. It seems like we are under constant attack.

        There’s the Cal Water increase, PG&E increase and these city councils wanting to raise taxes and fees. And at the state level every year there is some legislation to increase our taxes and expenses (e.g. AB 32) and make our lives more inconvenient (bag bans, etc.) and at the national level you have things like Obammie Care. And of course there are all sorts of time bombs our rulers have created that are just waiting to go off like the $17 trillion federal debt and the hundreds of trillions of unfunded federal liabilities. And at the state and local level there are unfunded liability time bombs waiting to blow up.

        Can’t they just leave us alone? These politicians and bureucrats never cease trying to take more of our money and tell us how we will be allowed to live our lives.

      • Juanita Sumner October 12, 2014 at 5:46 am #

        I feel that way sometimes too – want to crawl in my hole and hide from them. But, we have to take the opposite tack – we have to go up their ass Bob. We need to start writing letters to Gov. Brown’s office – you need to say you’re a member of Chico Taxpayers Association, like me. Remember what Arlo Guthrie said, “one guy is crazy, two guys are (politically incorrect), but three guys – THAT’S a movement. Let’s get some more people to help us, and write letters to the Gov, the Sac Bee, and the ER. We need to change the way the CPUC works.

        I guess I’ll start working on my letter to the editor first, get some people around here thinking about it. Did you read the article in the paper? Dumb bitch Ashley Gebb – she quoted the little jibe I made at the end, but didn’t include the stuff about the pensions. She left out what Pat Miller said about the San Bruno explosion – we’re paying for that, it was in a rate increase notice. They killed eight people, and passed the fines on to the ratepayers! We really need to take our newspapers to task about their lousy reporting. They don’t cover the news, we need to start writing more letters about what’s going on around here.

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