I object to a major provision of Measure L and call for voters to reject it. Instead, I propose a future alternative measure I call "Kick Gas" that would go much further in support of Palo Alto's decarbonization goals.
My objection to Measure L is that profits from the city's gas utility will be transferred to the general fund; Kick Gas would retain these profits in the utility, within a special projects reserve, where their use would be dedicated to additional programs to help customers transition off the gas utility. A significant caveat to consider is that the law regarding the use of utility profits is complex and unclear, and Kick Gas may not be easy, or even possible. But I think we should make the time and effort to try to explore this option.
If gas utility profits are transferred to the general fund, they'll be allocated among all the competing budget items that the City Council considers. I understand and respect that these are very difficult tradeoffs to make, but I believe directly funding our climate change programs takes priority.
Palo Alto's decarbonization programs and staffing reside primarily in its utility, funded by that budget, not via the general fund. Therefore, to allocate the gas utility profits exclusively for decarbonization efforts, this money must remain within the utility.
I fear that authorizing the transfer of gas utility profits to the general fund for non-decarbonization use, while simultaneously calling for utility customers to make financial sacrifices to electrify, may be perceived as contradictory or hypocritical, potentially lowering support for these programs, and detract from the city's "moral authority" as a leader on climate action and sustainability.
Measure L seeks to keep gas utility rates at their current levels, and its supporters state: "By raising the cost of natural gas, the city is acting in alignment with its sustainability goals." Kick Gas would also maintain gas utility rates at these high levels but would go much further by ensuring that all gas utility profits be spent exclusively on our climate goals.
These are complex topics, and I'm concerned that my objection to the general-fund-transfer provision of Measure L is being confused and conflated with other arguments against Measure L.
The accompanying table compares the climate goal support of Measure L, Kick Gas and the Libertarian/Anti-Tax position.
Unfortunately, the November ballot has been finalized, and the flawed Measure L cannot be changed.
Measure L pays only lip service to our climate goals. Therefore, I call for a "no" vote on Measure L. If we are serious about decarbonization, let's return at the next election, with Kick Gas.