From governor's mail room to utilities commission

SACRAMENTO — Michael Picker, the newest member of the powerful Public Utilities Commission, has a long history with Gov. Jerry Brown: He worked in the governor's mail room during his first term from 1975 to 1977.

"I delivered press releases," said Picker, 62, who moved to Sacramento from Echo Park a year after graduating from Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles in 1974.


Since then, Picker, has held a number of government jobs, most recently as an elected board member of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and as senior adviser on renewable energy for Brown and his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Last week, the governor named Picker, a Democrat, to fill the last 11 months of the unexpired term of Commissioner Mark J. Ferron, who resigned. Picker must be confirmed by the state Senate within a year of his appointment.

"Probably the reason he keeps me around is that I demonstrated that I can get things done," Picker said of Brown.

One of Picker's achievements under Brown and Schwarzenegger was shepherding large solar-power projects though the state and federal permitting gauntlet. He and Brown have the same goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and keeping electricity affordable, he said.

That requires a mix of solar and wind power, energy efficiency and natural-gas-fired generation to keep transmission lines humming when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing, Picker said.

But some environmentalists oppose burning natural-gas to produce electricity, even as a backup for renewables. "Now is the time we need to fully commit to phasing out fossil fuels," said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. Picker, she said, "has his work cut out for him."

Discount dust-up

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and consumer advocate Harvey Rosenfield normally are close political allies.

But the two now are at loggerheads over obscure discounts that some insurers give to groups such as college graduates and condo association members.

The price cuts, Rosenfield said, violate Proposition 103, the auto insurance initiative that he wrote and voters enacted in 1988. "Any break one lucky group of customers gets has to be subsidized by another group of customers," he said. "There's no free lunch."

Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy organization Rosenfield founded, is petitioning Jones to reverse an administrative law judge's decision allowing Allstate insurance to offer such "affinity group" discounts.

Jones' department defended the price breaks as "consistent with prior rate approvals for other California insurers."

Facial licenses

Want to give a facial? You might have to get a state license. The Assembly last week voted unanimously to require that people who do facials or treat skin with LED lights or steam get special training and be classified as estheticians. The legislation now goes to the state Senate.


Twitter: @marclifsher