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SDG&E; Survey Claims Voters Would Reject a Public Takeover

Times Staff Writer

If an election were held today, two out of three San Diego County residents would probably vote against a takeover of San Diego Gas & Electric by the San Diego County Water Authority, according to a survey released Monday by SDG&E.;

According to the poll, conducted in early January by the San Francisco-based Field Research Corp., 66% of the county’s residents would also prefer that the local utility remain a privately owned company rather than become a government agency.

The poll, which cost $75,000 and evidently marks the start of an SDG&E; campaign aimed at stopping a government takeover, drew a harsh response from critics of the proposed merger between SDG&E; and Edison.

Keeping It in SDG&E;'s Arena

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San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor claimed that “the only real poll that will count is when we put it to the vote of the people. . . . (The utilities) don’t want it to go to a vote of the people. They want to keep it in the arena they control.” O’Connor spokesman Paul Downey claimed that Field’s “methodology is suspect because (pollsters) never mentioned the word Edison . They never once mentioned the proposed merger.”

SDG&E; spokeswoman Karen Hutchens maintained that the poll’s validity was not affected by the decision to avoid questions on the proposed merger between SDG&E; and Edison. The proposed merger “is a separate issue” from the government takeover, Hutchens said.

Michael Shames, executive director of Utility Consumers Action Network, on Monday described the poll as premature.

“The public is not going to be hot on buying a utility unless it makes economic sense, and no one has proved that yet,” Shames said. “SDG&E; wasted $75,000.”

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UCAN members, Shames said, have made it clear that they are not going to support a merger or a takeover unless someone proves that it is going to save them money. “That’s the critical point, and SDG&E; ignored it.”

State Assemblyman Larry Stirling, who is preparing legislation to allow a vote of the people on a takeover, on Monday argued that the poll was not valid because SDG&E; “posed a false question.”

‘Ought to Be Told the Whole Truth’

Voters “ought to be told the whole truth . . . that by and large rates are lower under municipal ownership than they are under investor ownership,” Stirling said.

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SDG&E;, which has pledged to oppose a government takeover of its business, plans to publicize results of the poll, beginning with full-page newspaper advertisements that appeared this morning in local newspapers. The advertisements include a clip-out coupon that encourages readers to register their opposition to a “government takeover of SDG&E.;” Shareholders of the local utility paid $75,000 for the poll, Hutchens said.

Nearly half of the 803 respondents who completed the lengthy telephone poll said they would oppose a $3-billion bond issue to finance an acquisition of SDG&E; by the CWA. About 25% said they would support a bond issue, and the rest had no opinion.

However, the CWA has yet to indicate what level of financing would be required to acquire SDG&E;, and Field did not fully explain why the $3-billion figure was used in the poll.


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