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SSJID: LAFCo hinders effort for cheap power
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The Bulletin 

You can talk to them all day long and show charts and graphs and offer expertise and explanations. 

But sometimes just giving out a card does the trick.

On Thursday South San Joaquin Irrigation District General Manager Jeff Shields skipped the majority of the memorized speech that he’s been giving for the better part of a decade about the agency’s bid to provide cheaper retail electricity to Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon when he stood before the Manteca TEA Party Patriots. Instead he handed out a small, brightly-colored folded card that wrapped everything up in less than 350 words. 

The message? The Local Agency Formation Commission – LAFCo – is finally ready to give the district the approval it needs to get into the retail power business, but the staff that’s supposed to help applicants through the process is doing nothing but hindering progress. 

That alone, Shields said, might be easier to digest if the district wasn’t footing the bill for not only the agency’s lawyer, but also the time that LAFCo Executive Director James Glaser is spending on the project as well – essentially, he said, wasting the money that’s being collected by ratepayers and customers. 

Not even the animosity between the district and PG&E – the company whose power grid SSJID is trying to take over in Manteca, Ripon and Escalon – is able to match the tension between the district and the LAFCo staff. 

“We were in a meeting with our lawyer and our economist and PG&E’s representative and their lawyer and their economist and we were getting along fine,” Shields said. “It was the staff that was making things difficult. They were the ones that were taking away from what was actually being accomplished.”

And, according to Shields, meandering and attempts to block the district’s application couldn’t come at a worse time. 

Currently two of the LAFCo commissioners that want to get the matter to a formal vote will be out of office come November when their second term comes to a close – Supervisors Ken Vogel and Larry Ruhstaller. 

Trying to bring new members appointed to the LAFCo Board of Directors up to speed, Shields said, is unfair to those that have been waiting patiently and are expecting something to come out of this legislative cycle before the mid-term elections alter the local political landscape. 

The idea of “home rule” – having the officials elected to serve on the SSJID board right here in the community instead of a high-rise in San Francisco – was one of the ideas that Shields pushed during the meeting. He pointed out board member John Holbrook who happened to be in the audience. 

All they wanted, he said, was to see it come to a vote. 

“Even if it’s something that they don’t approve, just bring it to a vote,” Shields said. “I think that the people deserve at least that much.”