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$343,000 SDG&E; Brochure Blitz Attacks Public Takeover Idea

Times Staff Writer

In an action that drew an immediate protest from the San Diego County Water Authority and a local consumer group, San Diego Gas & Electric began a mail campaign Thursday to convince its residential customers that a government takeover of SDG&E; would generate higher utility rates and declining levels of service.

During the next few days, SDG&E;'s 869,800 residential customers will receive brochures with the headline, “The truth about SDG&E; and government takeover in black and white.” The brochures are being printed and mailed at shareholder expense, SDG&E; Governmental Affairs Director Karen Hutchens said Thursday.

Heated Response

SDG&E; spent $343,000 to produce and mail the brochures, Hutchens said. The utility took the unusual step of mailing the brochures to its customers because it “is important to get as much factual information as possible out to our customers on this major issue,” Hutchens said.

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SDG&E;'s mailing drew a heated response from the Water Authority, which is funding a $100,000 preliminary study on the possible takeover of SDG&E; by a government agency.

SDG&E; last month unsuccessfully sought a court order that would prohibit the Water Authority from funding the study.

The Water Authority’s main objection to the SDG&E; brochure is a prediction that a government takeover would increase electric rates in San Diego by 23%, Water Authority spokesman Jim Melton said Thursday. “Their (prediction) has not been confirmed by any independent study,” Melton said. “We can’t accept (the brochure) as being full, adequate and truthful.”

“SDG&E; also forgets that the Water Authority is not in favor at this time of public ownership of SDG&E;,” Melton said. “We’re neither pro or con. What we’re trying to do is get a study done to find out what the real (rate effects) are.”

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Immediate Opposition

The mailing also drew immediate opposition from Michael Shames, executive director of Utility Consumers Action Network, a San Diego-based consumer group. Shames on Thursday complained that SDG&E;'s mailing was “extremely inappropriate because it’s an illegal use of SDG&E;'s customer lists.”

Shames will petition the state Public Utilities Commission for an injunction prohibiting SDG&E; from posting the brochures until legal questions surrounding the mailing lists are answered. If the brochures have already been mailed, Shames will ask that the PUC order SDG&E; to “compensate SDG&E;'s customers for the use of the mailing lists.”

Shames, whose organization has not taken a position on municipalizing SDG&E;, also will ask the PUC to grant interested parties equal access to SDG&E;'s mailing lists.

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Hutchens maintained that SDG&E;'s mailing was “in full compliance with the law . . . we have a full right to communicate with our customers on a major issue . . . the future of their gas and electric service.”


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