The Santa Cruz County Commission on the Environment (COE) unanimously passed a motion made by Virginia (Gine) Johnson, 5th District Analyst and a member of the commission, recommending to the Board of Supervisors that the Board examine the county’s PG&E franchise fees in its nearly 70-year-old franchise agreement with the utility, adopted in 1955 as County Ordinance 470, with no end date. Four members of the VWC Environmental Committee’s PG&E Subcommittee gave a presentation at the COE’s July 26 meeting, detailing issues with the franchise agreement, which is the legal framework granting PG&E the use of our public and private roads for the construction and maintenance of their utility grid, in exchange for franchise fees paid to the county and a guarantee of ’a good and workmanlike’ installation.
However, PG&E’s extensive tree-clearing vegetation work in Santa Cruz County and its often inadequately maintained electrical infrastructure, as well as frequent power outages (both planned and, increasingly, unplanned), have caused environmental damage, compelling many residents and businesses to purchase expensive, emissions-producing generators as an emergency measure, heightening pollution and increasing wildfire risk. As California’s electrical grid and infrastructure age and the demand for power increases with a statewide push for clean energy electrification, local governments like ours are at the forefront of these complex issues. As an advisory body to the Board of Supervisors, the COE, with two members representing each supervisorial district, provides supervisors with recommendations on policies and programs designed to improve and protect the environment.
Kevin Collins, Kristin Sandel, Brackin Andrews, and Nancy Macy discussed PG&E’s negative impacts on the county and the need for stronger environmental protections, including watershed and forest preservation, CZU fire recovery, and safer, more reliable electrical equipment. Presenters also offered an overview of alternative models, including the city of San Diego and the small town of Weed. In San Diego, the benefits included a jump from a 2% to 3% of gross income franchise fee, support for the City’s climate change and equity programs, and a financial audit of SDG&E’s finances.
The hour-long presentation focused on the potential renegotiating the franchise agreement, including the establishment of more robust safeguards for local residents and Santa Cruz County’s biodiverse and unique natural landscape. After a series of questions – and kudos — from the commissioners, four members of the public spoke about their experiences with PG&E in the San Lorenzo Valley and expressed their support. A dozen more attendees were there in support of the VWC. Then with the Commission’s unanimous recommendation, the FA issue will now be moved ahead to the Board of Supervisors for further consideration.
Supplemental Information for further understanding of the proposal includes the following: