Uploaded: Wednesday, March 7, 2001 8:30 a.m.
Manager can negotiate power contracts
the lights on:
An ongoing report of local power conditions
Council approves plan with careful oversight
by Marv Snow
The Palo Alto City Council has approved an an ordinance giving
the city manager authorization to sign long-term power supply contracts,
but only after they increased the number of council members to be
assigned to a power Oversight Committee from three to four.
The ordinance was originally presented to the council on Feb.
12, but was sent to the Utilities Advisory Commission for study
and recommendation. That body concurred with Palo Alto Utilities
Director John Ulrich, but recommended modifications to the emergency
ordinance: a reduction in the amount of megawatts that could be
purchased--from 75 to 50--and the creation of an oversight committee.
"There is a strong possibility that the contract between Western
Area Power Authority and PG&E will be changed or become invalid,"
Ulrich told the Council. "What we would like to do is move ahead
and get on with the negotiations. It's not a solution but an insurance
"I have an alarm bell going off in my head," Councilman Gary Fazzino
said. "It's a very major situation. We need flexibility of speed."
Councilman Bern Beecham told Fazzino that the city's staff could,
currently, negotiate a contract of up to two years.
"The oversight committee would be setting the perimeters," City
Manager Frank Benest said. "If you have an offer on the table on
a Wednesday, there is no way in our current system to get to you
on Monday. That's a reality."
"This is not an ordinary matter," Ulrich said. "There is a considerable
risk that PG&E is going bankrupt. There is every likelihood of that
Fazzino had concerns of an oversight committee made up of some
City Council members having too much authority in approving contracts
without the concurrence of the full council. "An individual councilman
does not have the power," he said.
City Attorney Ariel Calonne informed the council that the oversight
committee would have the authority to approve contracts.
"What I'm seeing here is a compromise," Councilwoman Nancy Lytle
said. "I feel better about it because the committee is subject to
the Brown Act (must post agendas and hold open meetings)."
The ordinance, which will expire on March 1, 2002, allows the purchase
of 50 megawatts of power. No contract will last more than 10 years
and contracts must be of different quantities of power from different
sources. The ordinance also creates a standing oversight committee
comprised of four council members, to be appointed by the mayor.
The committee would have the power to review and approve how the
city manager can exercise his authority to negotiate and sign contracts.
The ordinance also calls for an internal review by the city auditor
of the city manager's actions. All power contracts must be approved
by the city attorney.