The first step for the city of Fresno kicking Pacific Gas and Electric to the curb will wait another month.
On the agenda was a discussion sponsored by Councilmen Tyler Maxwell and Garry Bredefeld to hire a consultant to perform a study about options to provide power to the city without PG&E.
Following a two hour discussion, four members of the city council voted to wait an extra month before any decision.
The sponsors, joined by Mayor Jerry Dyer and Councilman Luis Chavez, expressed anger and frustration over the the time it takes for PG&E to provide power for new residential and commercial developments.
Because it is taking months to power new developments, home loan borrowers may be at risk of losing lower mortgage rates, home developers said. Residents may in limbo as they await new homes to become ready.
Councilman Miguel Arias had the most doubt, asking a series of questions about what the city providing electricity may look like.
A motion to table the item initially failed by a 3-3 vote, with Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria abstaining. She then proposed another motion to table, with a specific date of Dec. 1 to continue the discussion. That passed 4-3, with Soria, Arias, Nelson Esparza and Mike Karbassi in the affirmative.
Repeating many points made at a news conference on Monday, Bredefeld criticized PG&E. He complained about high rates and poor services.
“PG&E (management) is not a good … corporate partner to the city of Fresno or California. And I’m being kind,” Bredefeld said.
Bredefeld also took on opponents on the dais, saying they have plans for housing but not for electrifying those projects.
“The hypocrisy and stupidity is unbelievable,” Bredefeld said.
Maxwell said it is about accountability.
“If we’re to hold our own internal city staff department directors to a certain standard, I think it’s only intuitive that we would hold outside partners and agencies to a similar standard when we have perceived issues in our community that need to be addressed in a timely manner.
He said “there are real world consequences” about not powering up institutions like schools and health care facilities.
Maxwell said he did not know what the best option would be “but I do know that I want to be educated before I make a decision,” Maxwell said.
Arias Has His Doubts
Arias called the motion “literally one run-on sentence” and one of the “sloppiest proposals I’ve seen.” He called a potential study “political theater.”
Getting rid of PG&E may be hasty move, Arias said, considering the city has its own problems with project completion.
“We give staff grace and problem solve it. The people who wrote in today about their frustration with PG&E are the same groups that have talked to us about the city’s delay and doing plan checks and doing inspections,” Arias said.
He wanted a proposal with more specifics, especially with billions on the line. He asked about how to pay for the study, the scope of work on what will be studied, the city’s bonding capacity, among other inquires.
At times, his questioning frustrated City Manager Georgeanne White.
“Councilmember Arias, you are talking about Step 50 and in a 50 step (process), we’re on Step One,” White snapped back.
Bredefeld and Maxwell countered that the point of the study was to answer questions Arias was posing.
At one point, Council President Nelson Esparza, an economics lecturer at Fresno City College, brought out a white board to explain the difficulty of the city competing with PG&E.
PG&E Employees Concerned
A PG&E employee and union representative were hesitant of any city takeover.
Melissa Munoz said she worked as a dispatcher “down the street” at the PG&E office.
“Our employees were hurt after hearing the language that was used by their elected officials. PG&E frontline co-workers have been subject to harassment and in some cases violence in Fresno before. So it’s not surprising that they are concerned,” Munoz said.
Hunter Stern, union representative for IBEW 1245, also expressed concern for worker safety. He had concerns about any potential employee transition.
“There’s no way that an individual working for PG&E can transfer into a publicly-owned utility and retain their seniority, their pension, their benefit structure. There’s no legal way to do it. So we oppose any change of service providers,” Stern said.
Councilmen Tyler Maxwell and Garry Bredefeld acknowledged PG&E employee concerns, but said their criticism reflects management, not workers.
Said Mayor Jerry Dyer: “I worked in law enforcement for 40 years carrying a gun, but I don’t want to touch electricity. That’s a very dangerous job. Those guys deserve their pay. They deserve their benefits. They work hard. They sacrifice their life.”
PG&E: Timeline Coming
PG&E representative Erica Franco-Cabrera spoke briefly to the council, acknowledging the frustration felt by some on the city council. She said global supply chains have been the problem.
“As crews over the next month are reassigned back to the new business work, we believe that we may be able to mitigate some of those concerns and projects that have been brought to our attention that need to be energized,” Franco-Cabrera said.
A timeline on providing power to new projects could come next week, she said.
Arias Calls Out Supervisors
During his 30 minutes questioning the study proposal, Arias said members of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors violated the state open meeting law when they attended the Monday news conference.
Supervisors Brian Pacheco, Steve Brandau and Buddy Mendes attended the event at City Hall.
Generally, the Brown Act states that a majority of a government body cannot meet outside an official meeting and discuss an item that is or may be on an agenda. There are five members of the Board of Supervisors.
“If it was five of us or seven of us holding a press conference, the district attorney would be dragging us through the jail for a Brown Act violation. But when the Board of Supervisors do it, I guess it really doesn’t matter,” Arias said.
Arias and three other councilmembers were investigated, but cleared earlier this year by the District Attorney’s office for a possible Brown Act violation.
Arias tells GV Wire he intends to file a complaint.
Pacheco, who spoke at Monday’s event, rebutted Arias’ assertion.
“Clearly, Council Member Arias does not know the rules of the Brown Act, which does not prohibit attendance at events such as press conferences, groundbreakings, and other ceremonial events,” Pacheco texted GV Wire.
Brandau turned the tables in response.
“Brown Act violations are more about Closed Session leaks like we see regularly from Fresno City Council than public settings where no County Action is taken,” Brandau texted.
Mendes, in a text message to GV Wire, said Arias is “full of (poop emoji).”
During the PG&E discussion, Dyer expressed a desire for the county to help pay for any study.