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“SB 33 is being used by wealthy absentee landowners, foreign corporations, and investor-owned San Diego Gas & Electric to industrialize over 10,000 acres of our predominantly low-income and highly fire-prone rural community of Boulevard.” -- Donna Tisdale, chair of the Boulevard Planning Group

By Miriam Raftery

June 3, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – SB 33, a bill that could force voters to pay for big energy projects through bond measures even if the majority of voters don't approve such projects,  is moving forward in the state legislature. The bill has passed the State Senate and is set for hearing June 12 in the Assembly Local Government Committee. It could have a big impact in East County communities such as  Boulevard, where big energy companies have engaged in a stealth campaign to stick voters with the bill for projects they don't want.

State Senator Ben Hueso (D) voted for SB 33 after winning a special election earlier this year to fill the vacancy left by Juan Vargas, who was elected to Congress.  ECM called to ask why he backed the measure.  “We haven't heard from anyone there," regarding resident concerns, said Paola Avila. "We would like for them to contact us." 

Hueso took $15,400 from electric utilities for his campaign  and  $28,950 from the energy and natural resources sector, according to Project Vote Smart.

State Senator Joel Anderson (R), who also represents portions of East County, voted against the bill.  Asked for comment, Anderson e-mailed the following reply. “Every effort to limit voter approval or outright deny it represents an increase in the size of government and a decrease in freedom and individual responsibility. Eliminating voter approval for infrastructure financing removes the people from the decision process of what their communities will look like, how bonds are issued and how property tax revenues are spent. This bill will add an extra 10 years of bond debt on top of the 30 years already in place and that’s not right.”

The measure would allow infrastructure districts to be formed by a majority of the governing body , which would be San Diego’s Supervisors for the unincorporated areas of the County.  The district would be governed by three Supervisors and two members of the public—appointed by the Supervisors. 

“Is it likely that anyone will stand up to a bond issue?” California Legistats, a publication that reviews California laws, asked, then suggested that instead, the public should be allowed to elect its own representatives to decide how much debt taxpayers could incur. 

Among the new infrastructure districts under consideration would be a new renewable energy infrastructure district planned to cover the Boulevard Planning Area, according to a map handed out by San Diego Renewable Energy Coalition representative Jim Whalen  at a planning group meeting in Boulevard.  John Gibson  and Hamann Companies, which owns land slated for industrial wind and solar development, were major supporters of a similar failed measure last year.

“SB 33 is being used by wealthy absentee landowners, foreign corporations, and investor-owned San Diego Gas A& Electric to industrialize over 10,000 acres of our predominantly low-income and highly fire-prone rural community of Boulevard,” Donna Tisdale, chair of the Boulevard Planning Group,  has stated.    Projects generate noise, light and electrical pollution, take hundreds of millions of gallons of groundwater, and represent major new sources of wildfire ignition while also impeding firefighting, she noted.

“These districts are unnecessary, unwanted, and unaffordable for our residents –especially when our right to say no is being taken away from us,” Tisdale added.

Boulevard’s Community Planning Group has voted unanimously against  a county wind ordinance that would open the door for industrial wind development in their community, where at least four major wind projects are proposed and several large solar projects.  But County Supervisors voted 4-1 to push through the wind ordinance anyhow--also gutting Boulevard's community plan over the objection of residents in order to enable industrial energy development in the rural town.

Bonnie Burns Price, an officer in the East County Democratic Club, voiced concern that Democrats including Hueso and State Senator Marty Block had voted to “take away the rights of the people to make their own decisions…especially when they don’t want the project.”  Burns also expressed concern for poor rural residents in places such as Boulevard, where most children are from families living below the federal poverty line.  “It’s very, very unfair , especially when people are trying to protect their properties against fire, it makes no sense at all for them to be responsible for putting in a known fire hazard. That’s simply outrageous.”

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