The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to oppose the PG&E initiative, calling it a "power grab" by the giant utility. It could threaten the well-being of the city-owned electric utility, council members warned, echoing earlier concerns of the city's Utilities Advisory Commission.
The city-owned utilities for more than a century has provided power to Palo Alto residents and businesses.
The initiative, which on Monday officially became known as Proposition 16, would require public electricity providers to obtain two-thirds voter approval before expanding their service areas or purchasing new facilities.
If the initiative passes, Palo Alto would need two-thirds voter approval from both existing and new customers before it could expand its electricity service into new territory.
Other California cities, including Redding, Roseville and Lodi, have recently passed similar resolutions opposing the initiative, which this week qualified for the June ballot.
The council also agreed to provide information about the initiative to local and regional business groups in hopes that they too will oppose Proposition 16.
Councilman Yiaway Yeh pointed to reports that PG&E has spent $3.4 million to get the initiative on the ballot and observed that no other utility company is supporting the proposed voting requirements. PG&E's motivation is to keep competing electricity providers from expanding or buying new facilities, he said.
"We want maximum flexibility to get new power in to our customers," Yeh said. "This proposed initiative will create a voting barrier to move forward with infrastructural investment."
The city's Utilities Advisory Commission reached a similar conclusion at its Jan. 6 meeting, when it unanimously voted to recommend opposition to the measure. Since then PG&E gathered the required 694,354 signatures to place the initiative on the ballot.
The company had initially named the initiative "The Taxpayer Right to Vote Act," but the state Office of the Attorney General renamed it "New Two-Thirds Requirement for Local Electricity Providers."
John Melton, chairman of the Utilities Advisory Commission, said the proposed initiative could hinder the city's ability to acquire new sources of power and could make it more difficult for the city to expand economically. He encouraged the council to "reach out to other cities and organizations that are standing in opposition to PG&E's power grab."
"If we want to have businesses grow and stay in the city and for new business to move it, we have to be able to ensure there is a supply of electrical power going forward," Melton said.
"We can find ourselves in some difficulty if this initiative passes."