When Bruce Lownsbery set out to lay the groundwork for Manteca’s first official Tea Party group – the Manteca Patriots – he wanted to make sure that the group was non-partisan and tackled non-partisan issues.
And when he invited Jeff Shields from the South San Joaquin Irrigation District to speak at the group’s gathering Thursday night at Chez Shari about the SSJID providing low-cost electricity to the residents of Manteca, Escalon and Ripon, he hit the non-partisan nail right on the head.
But that didn’t do anything for the non-polarizing nail.
The SSJID general manager apologized up front for anything he might say that would go against the views of anybody in the audience, and noted that what he was about to divulge were simply his beliefs as it pertained to SSJID’s desire to enter the retail power business by buying PG&E’s existing system. It was a sign of the nasty battle that the two sides have been engaged in for the better part of a decade.
His 45-minute talk, however, was well-received and even had people asking what they could do to help in the process.
“We want to set the rates locally – home rule – and we want to be the ones who provide in these communities,” Shields said. “And this is an agency that has gone 23 years without a rate increase to our water users. Our board gets it – they have to get it because if they don’t they get kicked out of office.
“They can’t hide behind a squabbling governor or some utilities commission.”
While the district itself is flush with a reserve fund that will top $72 million by the end of the year, Shields jokingly talked about how the five members of the Board of Directors are constantly looking over his shoulder to ensure he’s not spending money where it doesn’t need to be spent.
It’s that kind of oversight, he said, that will set SSJID apart from PG&E – accountability with the board members all living and working within the area that they serve. Those who don’t make the cut don’t get reelected.
That’s definitely, Shields said, not the way that the system is being run right now – noting that the California Public Utilities Commission currently operates without adequate handling.
“There are five individuals that are appointed, not elected, that are serving at the pleasure of the Governor,” he said. “You don’t get to vote for them. And most of the time, you don’t even get to talk to them. You don’t get to participate in that process unless you’re a part of that process.”
And then there’s the “regulated monopoly” that often doesn’t even have to invest in the initial infrastructure that becomes a part of their system.
Shields pointed out developers in new housing projects and planned communities are charged with the task of undergrounding powerlines and transformers necessary to power the neighborhood or subdivision safely and efficiently. Once the houses are ready to come on line, he said, the developer then deeds that electricity distribution system to PG&E where it becomes a part of their wider system network.
“They never even bought the system from Day 1,” Shields said with emphasis. “But then again, they are the 2nd largest law firm in the United States.”
Lownsbery thought the topic was perfect to promote a non-partisan atmosphere, and was pleased with the turnout – especially during the holiday months.
“I think this was a great non-partisan issue, and that’s what we really want to stress to people – this isn’t a movement that’s aligned with any single political party. I actually reached out to both local Democrat and Republican groups about tonight trying to get a mixture of ideas here,” he said. “We’re expecting that things are going to be a little bit slow now – other groups have cancelled their entire December calendars.
“We anticipate that come spring people will get politically sensitized. We’re still new with this and we’re learning how to do things, but I think as we get topics and as we move forward we’ll be coming with great guns.”
For more information about the Manteca Patriots, visit their website at www.mantecapatriots.org. The group will meet again on Thursday, Jan. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Chez Shari.