CA: Electricity hardships draw 1,000 to town hall meeting : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Electricity hardships draw 1,000 to town hall meeting

Ryan Kim, Chronicle Staff Writer Sunday, June 3, 2001

Frustrated with high power bills and anxious for a cure, about 1,000 people turned out at a town hall meeting on energy held by Rep. Anna Eshoo yesterday morning in Menlo Park.

The meeting, held under a large tent at the U.S. Geological Survey campus, provided little in the way of new information for weary consumers. But Eshoo, D-Atherton, and a panel of legislators and energy experts brought people up to speed on government efforts so far and reminded them of important conservation tips.

"I think it was important we came together as a community to try and get our arms around what is going on with this energy crisis," said Eshoo.

The large gathering, the biggest of Eshoo's town hall meetings since she was elected in 1992, also proved a telling measure of the interest, outrage and concern the energy crisis has sparked among many Bay Area residents.

Eshoo called on her constituents to keep up their conservation efforts. She also challenged President Bush to enact federal price relief, which he is empowered to do by law but is unwilling to do, she said.

Richard Sklar, a former ambassador to the United Nations and head of Gov. Gray Davis' Generation and Implementation Task Force, said a number of things precipitated the current crisis.

He said low rainfall in the Northwest has led to reduced power supply to California. He also said deregulation, far from bringing down prices, stripped consumers of protection and has led to exorbitant prices.

"The family took the locks off the house, shot the bull mastiff, put the jewels on the dining room table and went out to the movies," said Sklar. "Surprise, surprise, the jewels were scooped up."

Assemblyman Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said California in 1999 paid $7.25 billion in energy bills. The state paid the same amount for the first six weeks of this year, he said.

He said consumers, legislators and power officials need to work together through the crisis and avoid placing blame.

"There is plenty of blame to go around and it's not helping solve the problem," said Simitian.

Ralph Cavanaugh, co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's energy program, said California is already the No. 1 state in energy conservation. The state used 6 percent less energy than normal during the first three months of the year and 9 percent less during peak hours in that period, an unprecedented decline for a state during the post-World War II era.

He said additional conservation is possible and necessary now and in the future.

"What you've heard from the speakers is, we're starting to win and we are going to win," Cavanaugh told the crowd.

Many in attendance were encouraged by the turnout and by the words of the speakers. A good percentage already believe in conservation, but were heartened nonetheless by the call to arms.

"I thought I was a left-wing extremist," said Maria Venturini, 50, a nanny from Mountain View. "I feel so many people are spoiled and feel they have an entitlement to energy. They don't understand conservation."

Some thought, however, that the meeting didn't go far enough in helping people speak out to their elected officials.

"This was good for downward communication, but it doesn't work well for upward communication," said 65-year-old Bruce Cutler, a retired Palo Alto aerospace engineer.

George Zweifler, 47, of Redwood City said the gathering was slightly informative. But he said he hopes it reminds the powers-that-be that consumers are extremely fed up with the situation.

"This sends a message to Bush, Davis and other politicians," said Zweifler. "This shows that this is an important issue and heads will roll if things aren't fixed."

Meanwhile, state Sen. John Burton, D-San Francisco, yesterday endorsed a ballot initiative that would create a municipal utility district for San Francisco and Brisbane. At a press conference with former San Francisco Supervisor Angela Alioto, Burton said he will work on behalf of the San Francisco-Brisbane MUD Now campaign, which he said would help solve some of San Francisco's energy woes.

The MUD would create a public power authority and would provide local users with lower rates and protection against rolling blackouts, said Burton.

E-mail Ryan Kim at

-- Martin Thompson (, June 04, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ