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LAFCo’s Subliminal message: SJ County is not business friendly

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POSTED April 25, 2013 1:28 a.m.

Is San Joaquin County business friendly?

It’s a good question given the 44-month and counting ordeal that South San Joaquin Irrigation District has been going through trying to secure the permission of a county agency - the Local Agency Formation Commission - to lower electrical rates 15 percent across the board for businesses, agriculture, local governments, churches, and residents.

The one thing that has been forgotten in the epic battle being waged by LAFCo staff in an apparent effort to protect PG&E interests is the impact lower electric prices have on the economy. It isn’t a small detail given the unemployment in Stockton is at 17 percent, San Joaquin County 14.1 percent, and Manteca 12.3 percent.

During a series of meetings SSJID conducted as part of the current process that took place before Obama was first elected president owners of businesses such as new car dealers, bowling alleys and supermarkets noted they had monthly PG&E power bills ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 a month that were putting a financial squeeze on them. Farmers were in much the same boat.

Saving $3,000 a month could have kept some of them afloat that are now longer in business. But perhaps even more important it could easily have funded additional jobs to make the businesses more competitive.

This, of course, doesn’t appear in any analysis the LAFCo staff has ordered. Instead, they seem to show more concern about keeping PG&E’s bottom line healthy. And if LAFCo staff feels they have a financial obligation to worry about the little guy - you and me and our elderly neighbors on limited income - they have a funny way of showing it.

The 15 percent reduction would free up $12 million annually in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon to be spent on other things. For a struggling family of four it could be new shoes for their kids. For a senior citizen on restricted income it could be even more basic such as being able to afford to eat.

Less expensive power is a proven draw for employers that need a lot of it. Just ask Roseville and Folsom. It was one of the key reasons why Roseville landed thousands upon thousands of Hewlett-Packard jobs and Folsom secured thousands of Intel jobs. Roseville has its own municipal utility department while Folsom is served by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. Both have power rates substantially below PG&E.

And SMUD is doing so even with the ongoing cost of mothballing a nuclear power plant. Contrast that to PG&E that has an operating nuclear power plant.

You might ask why Stockton leaders should be concerned about less expensive power in Manteca. It’s called jobs.

Close to 60 percent of the jobs created at HP’s Roseville plant were filled by lower income workers who needed jobs who lived in South Sacramento which isn’t exactly a hotbed of economic vitality.

When Manteca’s biggest employer was Alpahtec back in the 1990s, almost 80 percent of the 750 workers they had in their peak years commuted from Stockton.

Lower power is a big deal not just for Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon. It is a big deal for the entire county.

Such economic nuances are apparently lost on the folks at LAFCo. They are more concerned about keeping high-priced lawyers and consultants in the money.

There are also unnerving little details such as the consulting firm that LAFCo picked - PA Consulting. Apparently the fact the firm did $3 million worth of business with PG&E prior to LAFCo retaining them to analyze the application doesn’t strike anyone in the LAFCo office as a conflict of interest.

San Joaquin County has enough challenges with trying to build a more vibrant economy, getting people back to work, and addressing community problems that can only happen with a robust economy. The last thing we need is a government agency doing its best to make sure that San Joaquin County doesn’t gain a competitive edge.



This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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