Luce to Head Group Against Merger of SDG&E;, SCE

Times Staff Writer

Great American First Savings Bank Chairman Gordon Luce agreed Friday to chair a new group of civic and business leaders that will actively oppose Southern California Edison’s proposed merger with San Diego Gas & Electric.

The committee, announced during a Friday press conference in Mayor Maureen O’Connor’s office, has won support--but, as yet, no funding--from the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce and the San Diego Economic Development Commission.

Members of the committee will “do everything possible to avoid this takeover by an L.A.-based utility,” Chamber President Lee Grissom said Friday. “We’re in this for as long as it takes.”

The chamber will spend “whatever it takes” to halt the proposed merger, Grissom said.


Will Support Legislation

The members agreed Friday that the San Diego County Water Authority should complete a study that will determine if a local government body should take over SDG&E.;

The committee will also support legislation in Sacramento that would give the county’s voters the right to vote on taking over SDG&E.;

Luce, who did not attend the meeting, was not available for comment Friday. “He wants to talk to each member of the committee first before he talks to reporters,” Great American spokesman Ken Ulrich said.

Luce’s decision to chair the committee surprised some longtime San Diego business leaders because the Great American executive is known as a steadfast Republican who disdains unnecessary government intervention into private enterprise.

Luce is best known as the forward-thinking executive who transformed San Diego Federal Savings & Loan, a relatively tiny institution, into Great American, now one of the state’s largest S&Ls.; Great American fueled its growth partly through the acquisition of S&Ls; that operate in Arizona, Washington, Montana and Colorado.

‘Interesting Questions’

The committee, which brought together business and civic leaders, has “raised interesting philosophical questions about the role of the free market and government’s role,” according to one local businessman.

Grissom acknowledged that the chamber has rarely opposed business decisions made by privately held companies.

For example, the chamber did not oppose Pacific Southwest Airline’s 1988 merger with Washington, D.C.-based USAir Group. Interestingly, both Luce and Edison Chairman Howard Allen were members of the PSA board that endorsed USAir’s unsolicited merger offer.

O’Connor on Friday applauded Grissom and chamber Chairwoman Gail Stoorza for taking “a leadership role” in the effort to keep Rosemead-based Edison from taking over SDG&E.;

“We face a tough uphill battle,” said O’Connor, who quipped that San Diegans are “not like Howard Allen or (SDG&E; Chairman) Tom Page” who can spend shareholder funds to promote the merger.

Committee Members

Besides O’Connor, Luce and Grissom, the committee also includes: EDC President Dan Pegg, Copley Press executive Herb Klein, developer Mike Madigan, Stoorza, past chamber Chairman Bill Nelson, contractor Warner Lusardi and Hal Gardner, an executive with the Ernst & Whinney accounting firm.

More committee members will be named, Grissom said.

The committee was an outgrowth of anti-Edison sentiment at the chamber and the EDC, a nonprofit, quasi-government agency that promotes economic growth in San Diego. Board members at both organizations had previously voted to oppose the merger.

O’Connor suggested that Allen has not yet realized that “some cities perhaps are not for sale . . . (and) San Diego is a proud city.”

Grissom attacked Edison’s recent newspaper advertising campaign, which included pro-Edison testimonials from civic leaders in cities such as El Segundo, Duarte and Torrance.

“San Diego is not a suburb around Los Angeles,” Grissom said. “San Diego has its own distinct character and personality.”

Significance Downplayed

SDG&E; and Edison spokesmen on Friday downplayed the committee’s significance.

SDG&E; “does not intend to disassociate itself from either organization,” SDG&E; spokesman Dave Smith said. “We understand that, from time to time, we’ll have differences with the chamber and EDC.”

Edison “continues to believe that the merger of SDG&E; and Edison will be in the best interests of the people of San Diego,” Edison spokesman Lewis Phelps said. “If we didn’t believe that the merger was very much in the interest of San Diego electric customers, we never would have proposed it.”