Take this advice | Rhetoric & Reason | San Luis Obispo
First, some history.
In 2010, when Paul Teixeira ascended to Katcho Achadjian’s old seat on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, he was beholden to the development interests that had installed Katcho there and kept him in place for many years. So it was not hard to guess what was behind Supervisor Teixeira’s sudden “streamlining” impulse to dissolve the elected South County Advisory Council in his district and replace it with a body whose members would be hand-picked by the supervisor.
The South County Advisory Council (SCAC) had an annoying reputation for insisting on following the county’s general plan when it came to proposed development projects. Teixeira sent the SCAC a your-services-will-no-longer-be-required letter and slipped a resolution onto the supervisors’ consent agenda for noncontroversial items to be passed without discussion. It was a resolution giving the supervisor the power to create his own pet advisory council. As SCAC Chair Dan Woodson mused on Dave Congalton’s radio show at the time, “If he has appointed council members, they’re going to go along with what he wants to do.”
But it wasn’t to be. The Sierra Club joined with virtually every advisory council in the county in informing Supervisor Teixeira that it was citizens, not supervisors, who had the authority to establish an advisory council, and any proposal to change that rule would require vigorous public input.
Facing a cascade of such correspondence and the promise of hours of public testimony delivering more of the same, Supervisor Teixeira withdrew his proposal from the agenda. After that meeting, exultant advisory council members from all over the county compared notes, exchanged phone numbers, and agreed it would be a good idea to keep in touch.
I told you that story to tell you this one. For the last 15 years, my chapter of the Sierra Club has been advocating for community choice energy in San Luis Obispo County. We were co-convenors of a three-day energy town hall at the SLO Vets Hall, where attendees ranked community choice as far and away the topic of greatest interest. We underwrote travel costs for the technical director of Sonoma County’s climate action plan, the blueprint for the most ambitious community choice program in the country, and scheduled several days of meetings between him and city managers, county planners, and elected officials. We fought for and won the inclusion of policy language in both the county’s climate action plan and general plan update mandating the evaluation of community choice energy.
Throughout that time, we were clear on why we did this: Because what matters is not just how much clean energy can be obtained and carbon emissions reduced, but how this is done. Replacing fossil fuels provides an opportunity to bring forward local clean energy solutions that both improve air quality and create good jobs, ensuring that all communities benefit from a fair economy. A community choice program has the potential to be the best tool for localizing clean energy generation and taking the path to a green economy with green-collar jobs that can support a family, bettering the lives of our most disadvantaged residents.
At the Feb. 16 policy board meeting of Central Coast Community Energy (3CE), executive staff tried to push through amendments to the bylaws of 3CE that would cancel the independence of the agency’s community advisory council by eliminating the ability of council members to put items on its agenda— items that very obviously included all of the above—for discussion and action. 3CE staff made clear their intention of restricting their agency’s advisory council to telling board members only the things that staff wanted them to hear.
We’d prefer to keep the “community” in Central Coast Community Energy, in keeping with the vision of the community advisory council when it was established, which is why we could not have agreed less with the tone and content of the Feb. 16 3CE policy board staff report and proposed bylaw amendments. The staff report characterized public input as “crowd-sourced proposals that lack staff analysis,” disdain dripping from that phrase like frosting from Marie Antoinette’s golden cake fork.
We pointed out to the policy board that 3CE will never get where it needs to go if it does not have a policy in place to ensure that good, green-collar jobs are part of the transition to an equitable clean energy economy. And it will never achieve that if management bars the board from getting advice they may not want to hear.
Because of a lot of testimony like that at the Feb. 16 meeting, and more at the subsequent public workshop that came out of it, 3CE staff backed off their vision of advisory council as echo chamber, for now.
They would do well to heed the cautionary tale of Supervisor Teixeira’s attempt to sideline the South County Advisory Council, and instead seek to set an example for the essential participation of citizens in energy use decisions impacting their communities and the way community-driven priorities are sought out and conveyed to a governing board.
Andrew Christie is the director of the Sierra Club’s Santa Lucia Chapter. Send a response for publication to firstname.lastname@example.org.