The PG&E Aftermath

I have delayed my writing of the PG&E decision until a week after the election (hard to believe it has only been a week). The problem with any analysis is that while H&I were extremely close elections, the fact that Sacramento had to approve it as well and it wasn’t even close to passing in Sacramento, makes it difficult to do a true post mortem. It is disappointing though not surprising that it would fail by a large margin in Sacramento. After all, the benefits to Sacramento rate payers are not as immediately evident and it is far easier for PG&E to scare them.

Still I believe that had H & I passed in Yolo County it would have sent several loud and clear messages to PG&E. That message is mooted by a split decision. Dunning thought this was an odd outcome not understanding why someone would vote for one and not for the other. But in actuality it’s not that odd with one passing by 400 or so votes and the other failing by a similar margin, as close as the two are to each other, this amounts to little more than random error by a small number of people not fully aware that these are two sides of the same coin, it’s likely that 98 percent of the people voted the for both and only a tiny percent split their vote.

And yet, even granting the large defeat in Sacramento County, I’m a bit disappointed with the Yolo County results. Had Yolo solidly voted to support SMUD, it would have been a loud and clear signal. First, that PG&E could not buy our votes with their ten million dollar plus campaign, fraught with deception. Second, that we were not happy with our service from PG&E. (Obviously PG&E prevailed by casting doubt about the SMUD move more than by convincing us that we liked them).

This was a rare election in so many ways. There was near animous support among Yolo County Elected officials–every member of the three major city councils and all five members of the Board of Supervisors won. How is it then possible that PG&E wasn’t soundly defeated in Yolo County?

The obvious answer was the slew of deceiving mailers and TV ads in Yolo County. PG&E managed to turn the strength of SMUD into an uncertainty by casting doubt on their ability to lower the bill for rate payers. This had to do with the costs of annexation. Watching the debate between SMUD and PG&E, it seemed that the pro-H & I side was ill-prepared for this argument even though they knew it was coming. Frankly after watching the debate, I had doubts myself about their plan even though I knew going in I was going to vote for SMUD regardless. The PG&E arguments were extremely effective unfortunately.

The second problem was that just like Target, PG&E tried to turn the issue of the environment–one of their weaknesses in their favor. So they launched a massive campaign to convince Yolo County voters that PG&E was environmentally friendly and perhaps as importantly that SMUD was not environmentally friendly (easier to convince people of negatives). They even went as far as to compare PG&E’s effort to the No on X effort which we covered.

The bottom line of the PG&E effort was to convince the rate payers that they may not like the current system, but a new system may be worse, so stick with the devil you know. And when you have a resource advantage, it’s easy to convince people to stick with the status quo by voting no. The no side almost always has the advantage in these types of races.

It is obviously difficult to fight back when you are facing a 10 million dollar plus campaign. But one way that might have been helpful would have been for each of the 20 officeholders to contact their core constituencies with a direct message of support for SMUD and an explanation of why it was important for them to support H & I. I’m not being critical of the SMUD effort, because they did very well facing overwhelming odds and an overwhelming resource disadvantage. At the end of the day, given that disparity, it was hard to win. I had hoped that the voters in Yolo County would see through the smoke and mirrors, but it seems very obvious that PG&E was able to obtain their by creating enough confusion and uncertainty to nudge a defeat on Measure I.

As I said previously, it was rendered moot by the large and overwhelming defeat in Sacramento County. This was a long and difficult process, so it is hard to know if this is the end of the fight or if they will try to revisit it. If they do wish to revisit it, they need to conduct a long and very concerted education campaign prior to the fact and they need to make it very clear exactly how much this will cost, so that PG&E has a more difficult time of mucking the waters.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

Author

  • David Greenwald

    Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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Elections

20 comments

  1. At the end of the day,after all the campaign rhetoric, there was going to be a CHANGE with its attendant uncertainty. There are voters who are comfortable with a measure of uncertainlty when seeking a result they favor even with a little chaos thrown into the mix. I would venture to guess that most Yolo voters are fairly risk-averse. Undecided voters usually break in favor of the status quo on issue elections as well. I agree that our elected officials could have put in a lot more effort to reassure their risk-averse constituents but given their past track record (remember they almost all came out strongly in support of Covell Village), I wonder if it would have made a difference.

  2. At the end of the day,after all the campaign rhetoric, there was going to be a CHANGE with its attendant uncertainty. There are voters who are comfortable with a measure of uncertainlty when seeking a result they favor even with a little chaos thrown into the mix. I would venture to guess that most Yolo voters are fairly risk-averse. Undecided voters usually break in favor of the status quo on issue elections as well. I agree that our elected officials could have put in a lot more effort to reassure their risk-averse constituents but given their past track record (remember they almost all came out strongly in support of Covell Village), I wonder if it would have made a difference.

  3. At the end of the day,after all the campaign rhetoric, there was going to be a CHANGE with its attendant uncertainty. There are voters who are comfortable with a measure of uncertainlty when seeking a result they favor even with a little chaos thrown into the mix. I would venture to guess that most Yolo voters are fairly risk-averse. Undecided voters usually break in favor of the status quo on issue elections as well. I agree that our elected officials could have put in a lot more effort to reassure their risk-averse constituents but given their past track record (remember they almost all came out strongly in support of Covell Village), I wonder if it would have made a difference.

  4. At the end of the day,after all the campaign rhetoric, there was going to be a CHANGE with its attendant uncertainty. There are voters who are comfortable with a measure of uncertainlty when seeking a result they favor even with a little chaos thrown into the mix. I would venture to guess that most Yolo voters are fairly risk-averse. Undecided voters usually break in favor of the status quo on issue elections as well. I agree that our elected officials could have put in a lot more effort to reassure their risk-averse constituents but given their past track record (remember they almost all came out strongly in support of Covell Village), I wonder if it would have made a difference.

  5. It’s relatively easy to talk about the Yolo SMUD effort as a whole, but to do that would be to miss the entire problem with the campaign: rather than running one separate campaign, it was broken up into three parts. Thus, the traditional Yolo fiefdoms each go their own ways…

    Looking at the break down of the vote by city, there are a couple of things that jump out:

    1. the Entire Broderick-Bryte area of West Sac overwhelmingly voted against SMUD. This belies a severe tension between the current establishment elite in West Sac and their constituents in that area. There are severe trust issues in this area, ones that will take years to overcome…Having the political establishment over there pro-SMUD probably hurt it more than helped.

    2. In Woodland, SMUD lost every precinct except for one. This is what happens when an entire town becomes consumed with one particular issue (yes, there is a lesson there)…that neither the Sieferman nor Rexroad campaigns even talked about SMUD killed it’s chances. Rexroad had a 40-line phone bank calling into Yolo and Colusa counties…he couldn’t talk about SMUD once?

    If SMUD runs a coordinated campaign with the Republican and Democratic Central Committees in Yolo, it wins…hands down. Sac is an entirely different story…

    And yes, Mr. Dunning’s right about pointing out the idiocy of people voting us into the dark ages…the bigger question that I have, however, is why the undervoting on the first ballot question? If we’re supposed to be the second smartest city in the nation, I shutter to think of how stupid the rest are…

  6. It’s relatively easy to talk about the Yolo SMUD effort as a whole, but to do that would be to miss the entire problem with the campaign: rather than running one separate campaign, it was broken up into three parts. Thus, the traditional Yolo fiefdoms each go their own ways…

    Looking at the break down of the vote by city, there are a couple of things that jump out:

    1. the Entire Broderick-Bryte area of West Sac overwhelmingly voted against SMUD. This belies a severe tension between the current establishment elite in West Sac and their constituents in that area. There are severe trust issues in this area, ones that will take years to overcome…Having the political establishment over there pro-SMUD probably hurt it more than helped.

    2. In Woodland, SMUD lost every precinct except for one. This is what happens when an entire town becomes consumed with one particular issue (yes, there is a lesson there)…that neither the Sieferman nor Rexroad campaigns even talked about SMUD killed it’s chances. Rexroad had a 40-line phone bank calling into Yolo and Colusa counties…he couldn’t talk about SMUD once?

    If SMUD runs a coordinated campaign with the Republican and Democratic Central Committees in Yolo, it wins…hands down. Sac is an entirely different story…

    And yes, Mr. Dunning’s right about pointing out the idiocy of people voting us into the dark ages…the bigger question that I have, however, is why the undervoting on the first ballot question? If we’re supposed to be the second smartest city in the nation, I shutter to think of how stupid the rest are…

  7. It’s relatively easy to talk about the Yolo SMUD effort as a whole, but to do that would be to miss the entire problem with the campaign: rather than running one separate campaign, it was broken up into three parts. Thus, the traditional Yolo fiefdoms each go their own ways…

    Looking at the break down of the vote by city, there are a couple of things that jump out:

    1. the Entire Broderick-Bryte area of West Sac overwhelmingly voted against SMUD. This belies a severe tension between the current establishment elite in West Sac and their constituents in that area. There are severe trust issues in this area, ones that will take years to overcome…Having the political establishment over there pro-SMUD probably hurt it more than helped.

    2. In Woodland, SMUD lost every precinct except for one. This is what happens when an entire town becomes consumed with one particular issue (yes, there is a lesson there)…that neither the Sieferman nor Rexroad campaigns even talked about SMUD killed it’s chances. Rexroad had a 40-line phone bank calling into Yolo and Colusa counties…he couldn’t talk about SMUD once?

    If SMUD runs a coordinated campaign with the Republican and Democratic Central Committees in Yolo, it wins…hands down. Sac is an entirely different story…

    And yes, Mr. Dunning’s right about pointing out the idiocy of people voting us into the dark ages…the bigger question that I have, however, is why the undervoting on the first ballot question? If we’re supposed to be the second smartest city in the nation, I shutter to think of how stupid the rest are…

  8. It’s relatively easy to talk about the Yolo SMUD effort as a whole, but to do that would be to miss the entire problem with the campaign: rather than running one separate campaign, it was broken up into three parts. Thus, the traditional Yolo fiefdoms each go their own ways…

    Looking at the break down of the vote by city, there are a couple of things that jump out:

    1. the Entire Broderick-Bryte area of West Sac overwhelmingly voted against SMUD. This belies a severe tension between the current establishment elite in West Sac and their constituents in that area. There are severe trust issues in this area, ones that will take years to overcome…Having the political establishment over there pro-SMUD probably hurt it more than helped.

    2. In Woodland, SMUD lost every precinct except for one. This is what happens when an entire town becomes consumed with one particular issue (yes, there is a lesson there)…that neither the Sieferman nor Rexroad campaigns even talked about SMUD killed it’s chances. Rexroad had a 40-line phone bank calling into Yolo and Colusa counties…he couldn’t talk about SMUD once?

    If SMUD runs a coordinated campaign with the Republican and Democratic Central Committees in Yolo, it wins…hands down. Sac is an entirely different story…

    And yes, Mr. Dunning’s right about pointing out the idiocy of people voting us into the dark ages…the bigger question that I have, however, is why the undervoting on the first ballot question? If we’re supposed to be the second smartest city in the nation, I shutter to think of how stupid the rest are…

  9. the problem was the woodland and wast sacramento voters got suckered and bought PG&E’s line, and that davis wasn’t big enough to outweigh them politically.

    rexroad doggedly running on opposition to conway ranch on the basis of eminent domain (rhetorically, if hedging in substance) probably helped to tilt woodland in that direction as well, i would bet.

  10. the problem was the woodland and wast sacramento voters got suckered and bought PG&E’s line, and that davis wasn’t big enough to outweigh them politically.

    rexroad doggedly running on opposition to conway ranch on the basis of eminent domain (rhetorically, if hedging in substance) probably helped to tilt woodland in that direction as well, i would bet.

  11. the problem was the woodland and wast sacramento voters got suckered and bought PG&E’s line, and that davis wasn’t big enough to outweigh them politically.

    rexroad doggedly running on opposition to conway ranch on the basis of eminent domain (rhetorically, if hedging in substance) probably helped to tilt woodland in that direction as well, i would bet.

  12. the problem was the woodland and wast sacramento voters got suckered and bought PG&E’s line, and that davis wasn’t big enough to outweigh them politically.

    rexroad doggedly running on opposition to conway ranch on the basis of eminent domain (rhetorically, if hedging in substance) probably helped to tilt woodland in that direction as well, i would bet.

  13. It did not really matter how Woodland and Davis voted – the idea was shot down by existing SMUD customers. There is a limited amount of cheap hydroelectric power subsidising the SMUD rates. Adding Yolo County meant the cheap power would have to be spread over more customers and that would have jeopardized the cheaper rates being paid by Sacramento customers. To put it another way Sacramento SMUD customers were unwilling to share their cheap power and risk the possibility that the merger would drive up SMUD rates.

  14. It did not really matter how Woodland and Davis voted – the idea was shot down by existing SMUD customers. There is a limited amount of cheap hydroelectric power subsidising the SMUD rates. Adding Yolo County meant the cheap power would have to be spread over more customers and that would have jeopardized the cheaper rates being paid by Sacramento customers. To put it another way Sacramento SMUD customers were unwilling to share their cheap power and risk the possibility that the merger would drive up SMUD rates.

  15. It did not really matter how Woodland and Davis voted – the idea was shot down by existing SMUD customers. There is a limited amount of cheap hydroelectric power subsidising the SMUD rates. Adding Yolo County meant the cheap power would have to be spread over more customers and that would have jeopardized the cheaper rates being paid by Sacramento customers. To put it another way Sacramento SMUD customers were unwilling to share their cheap power and risk the possibility that the merger would drive up SMUD rates.

  16. It did not really matter how Woodland and Davis voted – the idea was shot down by existing SMUD customers. There is a limited amount of cheap hydroelectric power subsidising the SMUD rates. Adding Yolo County meant the cheap power would have to be spread over more customers and that would have jeopardized the cheaper rates being paid by Sacramento customers. To put it another way Sacramento SMUD customers were unwilling to share their cheap power and risk the possibility that the merger would drive up SMUD rates.

  17. SMUD was not allowed to make comments about PGE. They were not allowed to campaign against PGE because that would mean using ratepayers dollars to do this. The rate payers own SMUD. PGE has deep pockets and obviously don’t care about how they sent millions of dollars of their rate payers dollars to campaign against SMUD.
    SMUD has scruples, PGE does not. Sorry Yolo, your loss.

  18. SMUD was not allowed to make comments about PGE. They were not allowed to campaign against PGE because that would mean using ratepayers dollars to do this. The rate payers own SMUD. PGE has deep pockets and obviously don’t care about how they sent millions of dollars of their rate payers dollars to campaign against SMUD.
    SMUD has scruples, PGE does not. Sorry Yolo, your loss.

  19. SMUD was not allowed to make comments about PGE. They were not allowed to campaign against PGE because that would mean using ratepayers dollars to do this. The rate payers own SMUD. PGE has deep pockets and obviously don’t care about how they sent millions of dollars of their rate payers dollars to campaign against SMUD.
    SMUD has scruples, PGE does not. Sorry Yolo, your loss.

  20. SMUD was not allowed to make comments about PGE. They were not allowed to campaign against PGE because that would mean using ratepayers dollars to do this. The rate payers own SMUD. PGE has deep pockets and obviously don’t care about how they sent millions of dollars of their rate payers dollars to campaign against SMUD.
    SMUD has scruples, PGE does not. Sorry Yolo, your loss.

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