Measure B: Solar savior or shady politics?

Today's topic: City Controller Laura Chick says she'll vote no on Measure B because she thinks "the entire process of how it ended up on the ballot stinks." On the other hand, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other local leaders tout Measure B as a badly needed green economic stimulus. Which side is correct?

The right time for L.A. to go solar
Point: Sarah Leonard

The iconic German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once said, "Laws are like sausages -- it is better not to see them being made."

We have been given a front-row seat to see how the sausage is made with the placement of Measure B on the March 3 Los Angeles city ballot. Although L.A. City Controller Laura Chick is entitled to oppose Measure B simply because she doesn't like the looks of the lawmaking process, a broad coalition representing more than 1 million environmentalists, union members, health and community advocates -- as well as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Council President Eric Garcetti and state Assembly Speaker Karen Bass -- support Measure B, which would provide our city with the economic stimulus it needs while ensuring that future generations will not have to rely on expensive, dirty fossil fuels.

Measure B would create thousands of good, family-supporting jobs here by requiring the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to produce the green energy we need to meet our growing power demands. It would protect our families from lung disease and death caused by the nation's worst air pollution -- all while ensuring that DWP customers continue to enjoy the lowest rates in Southern California.

In addition to creating jobs at a time when unemployment in L.A. has increased 82% in the last year, Measure B would require the DWP to invest in local solar manufacturers, which would boost local companies and attract new businesses to our area. It would establish a job training and outreach program that would target L.A.'s underserved communities, ensuring that workers receive the skills they need for careers in the new green economy. Measure B includes strong safeguards to ensure an unprecedented level of accountability and transparency for L.A. residents, who own the DWP.

After Measure B is passed, the DWP must submit its implementation plan to the City Council for review and ratification. A citizen's advisory committee would then oversee the implementation of the plan to ensure that it is done in the most efficient manner, as is required by law. The city controller would be required to conduct an annual audit of the solar energy program to ensure that each dollar is spent wisely and that the program is on track to meet its goals on time. The controller would provide recommendations on how to maximize performance, oversight and the viability of the program.

Last week, the DWP released a report by the Huron Consulting Group that clearly demonstrated what the experts and city leaders who crafted Measure B over the last year knew before they placed it on the ballot: Wisely investing in renewable energy sources now would require a very slight increase in electricity rates ($1.05 a month or less), meaning that DWP rates would continue to be the lowest in the region while L.A. produces more solar energy than any other U.S. city.

The Huron report also confirmed what the drafters of Measure B already knew: The time to develop renewable energy sources in Los Angeles is now. L.A.'s power needs are expected to grow by 100 megawatts a year; Measure B's 400 megawatts of solar power would help meet that demand without further polluting our air and straining our aging and overloaded power distribution grid. Importantly, it would not require the construction of expensive, time-intensive and environmentally sensitive transmission lines from the desert. State and federal laws require the DWP to increase renewable energy or risk steep fines; Measure B would help the utility reach these benchmarks on time.

Measure B just makes sense for L.A.

Sarah Leonard is a spokeswoman for the campaign supporting Measure B.

Another bad solar experiment from L.A.'s leaders
Counterpoint: Jack Humphreville

City Controller Laura Chick opposes Measure B because the process that got it onto the March 3 ballot stinks. There's something fishy about asking voters to give a blank check for billions of dollars to the same city officials and DWP who have failed to deliver on their solar energy promises for a decade.

Back in 2002, Chick conducted an audit of DWP's Green Power Program and found the utility's management had an "arrogant" and "cavalier" attitude about spending hundreds of millions of dollars and "failed to produce any new long-lasting sources of renewable power." She called for major changes in DWP's management, saying, "The environmental goal of generating renewable energy is too important to continue funding mediocre and failed 'experiments.' The public deserves to know about these programs and how their money is being spent." The architect of those failed experiments was former DWP General Manager S. David Freeman, who is now being put forth by the Measure B campaign as the fount of wisdom on running solar energy programs.

Nothing has changed in the years since Chick's audit. In fact, the DWP initiated another experiment in solar energy in 2003, that time promising 100 megawatts of electricity in the city by 2010. It's another failure: Only 13 megawatts are being used and the program is all but dead, another failure largely owed to the DWP's demand to have a monopoly on solar energy. What's fishy about Measure B is that it's just like the other DWP solar programs: no planning, no thorough analysis and no detailed information for the public to know how their money is going to be spent.

Measure B's supporters offer nothing but more empty promises. They say Measure B would help protect our families from lung disease and death caused by the nation's worst air pollution. It's true that L.A. has the nation's worst air, but Measure B would not close any of the DWP's out-of-state coal-burning power plants. It wouldn't even meet the growing power demands caused by over-building and digital billboards.

They say Measure B will "create thousands of good, family supporting jobs" in Los Angeles. But that's just a pie-in-the-sky promise that has no foundation in reality. DWP General Manager H. David Nahai and other officials have acknowledged that most of the solar panels will have to be bought from overseas, mainly China and Malaysia, and the only concrete claim they make is the 200 to 400 jobs that would be required to install the units.

The worst stench of all is the campaign's reliance on the so-called Huron report, which is nothing but a late-coming PowerPoint presentation based on a lot of guesswork about tax credits, possible changes in technology and possible changes in the cost of producing solar energy. It has no more credibility than a fortune teller looking into a crystal ball and saying you'll be rich someday. Maybe, maybe not.

That's what is wrong with Measure B: We just don't know. The mayor, the City Council and the DWP have no answers, just promises. They're doing exactly what they've done for the last 10 years: getting their hands on our money and engaging in another mediocre experience that is sure to fail.

There's a better way. Let's go back to the drawing boards. Let's get environmentalists, experts and the public at the table and start going solar quickly and methodically just as utilities all over the world are doing. Let's have a plan to use our money wisely and generate the electricity we need to start closing those dirty power plants we own and start cleaning our dirty air.

Jack Humphreville, the DWP ratepayers advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, wrote the ballot argument opposing Measure B.