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Berryhill remaining neutral in SSJID-PG&E tiff

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POSTED September 15, 2010 2:09 a.m.
The editorial the Manteca Bulletin ran two weeks ago on my brother and I in regard to South San Joaquin Irrigation District’s proposed takeover from PG&E gave me cause for great concern.  To even imply that I might share the same position as my brother simply because we share the same blood is irresponsible. Nor was I asked about my position before the editorial ran.  

As a local farmer, I understand the sensitivity of this issue. In fact, I recently held a meeting of some local farmers and stakeholders to discuss the issue further and clarify my views. I write today to set the record straight for all concerned.

Even casual observers of Sacramento know that my brother and I regularly differ on issues, especially regional ones. We disagreed on the water package passed last year, which included the $11 billion water bond – I strongly oppose it, Tom supports it. We also cast some differing votes on last year’s budget.

We are different people.  I represent San Joaquin County, Tom doesn’t.  I am a farmer in San Joaquin County, Tom isn’t.  I have held local office before, Tom hasn’t.  No one should automatically assume that I would be in lock-step with him on this issue.  Therefore when an editorial uses only the last name Berryhill to slam my brother in my district, I am left to ponder why they would confuse voters like that.

To date, I have been neutral on the issue of SSJID’s proposed takeover of PG&E facilities in South San Joaquin County, by which I mean I viewed it as a purely a local issue.I saw no need for state-elected officials to get involved. I still maintain that position today. Let me explain why.

There are many unanswered questions regarding the specifics of SSJID’s proposal; questions for which PG&E and SSJID have very different answers. While I have studied these questions and have my own thoughts, I don’t believe it is proper for me to say who is right and who is wrong; time will tell.  

For me, the most important question is one of local autonomy and due process.  I believe locals should have the right to determine their own future. SSJID says they can save customers 15% on their current electricity rates.  If they’re wrong, their elected board will have to face the consequences.  Therefore like every city in the proposed takeover region, I support SSJID’s proposal going before LAFCO.

Some people have talked about SSJID’s potential use of eminent domain in this case and equated it to the infamous case between Susette Kelo and the city of New London, CT – which was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, tragically finding against Ms. Kelo.  To equate these two scenarios is simply ridiculous.  SSJID is not some greedy local government looking to cater to wealthy corporate interests, and PG&E is not a blue-collar single woman getting thrown out of her home.  In fact, second only to the State of California itself, PG&E is the largest user of eminent domain in our state, so they are no stranger to this process.

And let’s remember, SSJID is not certain to use eminent domain, only that they reserve the right to use it if negotiations should fail – same as Turlock Irrigation District – which by the way did successfully negotiate a sale with PG&E without using it.  Eminent domain is a very powerful tool that needs to be used judiciously.  Has it been abused in the past?  Sure it has.  Does that mean therefore its use is never justified?  Of course not.  

I still retain hope that SSJID and PG&E can work out a deal that is amicable to both sides and won’t require eminent domain.  If not, we must trust the process, which will include LAFCO and the courts, if necessary.  And while some of us may not like the outcome, that’s the way our government works, for better or worse.

Much like the water package passed last year, in my opinion, my brother does not fully appreciate the complexity of the issue – at least judging from his mailer.  I think we should leave local issues like this to the local parties involved.  But it is Tom’s prerogative to weigh in if he wishes.  Likewise, I do not believe the Manteca Bulletin accurately portrayed the complexity of the differences between my brother and me, or my role in Sacramento, but editorial license is their prerogative as well.

Personally, I am more focused on trying to bring bureaucratic state regulations under control so we can create more jobs in this State and put people back to work and trying to reform our failed budget process.  I wish more of my fellow legislators and state media would join me in this effort.
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