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San Diego Community Advocates Fight Proposed Energy Deal, Want City-Owned Utility

Community and climate change activists gather outside the unusable 101 Ash Street Building to protest against the city brokering another energy franchise deal with San Diego Gas & Electric, Aug. 21, 2020.
Shalina Chatlani
Community and climate change activists gather outside the unusable 101 Ash Street Building to protest against the city brokering another energy franchise deal with San Diego Gas & Electric, Aug. 21, 2020.

Correction: The version of this story that aired on KPBS Evening Edition incorrectly stated the entity from which the city purchased 101 Ash St. The city bought it from a developer, not Sempra Energy.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has said he will move forward with a multibillion-dollar franchise deal with San Diego Gas & Electric or another private utility. Community advocates, however, have different plans.

They want to block any vote on the agreement and are calling for a city-owned utility instead. They made their views clear during a protest staged Friday at the city’s now-infamous 101 Ash St. building.

San Diego Community Advocates Fight Proposed Energy Deal, Want City-Owned Utility
Listen to this story by Shalina Chatlani.

The city bought the Ash Street building for around $300 million dollars in 2017, but later found it was filled with asbestos. The building now sits empty and unusable.

Advocates say the building is one example of a massive waste of taxpayer money. And a potential energy franchise agreement with SDG&E would be another, they said.

RELATED: Mayor To Move Forward On Energy Franchise Deal, Though Council Lacks Agreement

“We’re paying $18,000 a day to pay for this uninhabitable building, the current franchise with SDG&E is delivering $1 million a day in profits, fifty times larger,” said former San Diego Union-Tribune energy journalist Craig Rose, one of the advocates who spoke.

The city’s 50-year agreement with SDG&E for it to provide gas and electricity expires in January. Helen Gao, an SDG&E spokeswoman said in an email to KPBS that the utility has always delivered for the city.

“SDG&E has a strong track record delivering clean, safe and reliable energy,” Gao wrote. “We believe we are in the best position to serve the city because of the skills and dedication of our 4,000 plus employees. We look forward to submitting a competitive bid.”

Community Advocates Call For City-Owned Utility As City Consider New Energy Deal

Advocates who gathered on Friday to announce a new coalition dedicated to public power are calling for a city-owned utility, which they say will deliver cheaper rates.

“Public power we know is the answer,” Rose said. “That’s not a guess, that’s not an estimate, that’s the fact.”

A few weeks ago, San Diego city councilmembers rejected two proposals to move forward with setting the terms of a new energy agreement. However, that deal is now on Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s desk. And the Mayor’s office has said it plans to ask utilities to bid for the deal in the coming weeks.

RELATED: Multi-Billion Dollar Energy Franchise Terms Up For Vote, But Community Advocates Say They've Been Left Out

But Cody Petterson, president of the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, said the advocates think they can stop it from happening. He points to their previous success.

“We knew we were unlikely to get a vote for municipalization, however, we did believe if we hit it hard enough and put together a movement quickly enough that we would be in a position to create a fog of war and get our five votes to block the vote … and that’s what you saw,” Petterson said.

Now, Peterson said they’ll get that same voting block among councilmembers again when the Mayor’s agreement comes up for discussion. The mayor’s office said that will happen before the end of the year.