By SAM SCOTT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Another attempt at passing a moratorium on the installation of PG&E SmartMeters in Sebastopol failed Tuesday, but supporters of the freeze say their fight continues unabated.
“We will never give up in the city of Sebastopol,” said Sandi Maurer of the EMF Network, a local activist group, who said she plans to bring complaints that the meters are being installed improperly to the city’s attorney.
Mayor Guy Wilson, however, said he doesn’t expect the council to revisit the issue anytime soon. Tuesday was the second time since October city leaders have turned down a moratorium on the meters, which transmit usage data by radio waves.
“Now that we have had this vote, I don’t see — at least in the near future — a situation that would warrant bringing it back again,” he said on Wednesday.
Still, strong feelings remain against the meters. The 3-2 vote Tuesday came despite a long list of speakers who laid into the wireless devices for a host of ills, including health maladies, invasions of privacy and increased risks of fire.
But for Wilson, the issue boiled down to jurisdiction. Simply the town cannot enforce such a restriction without trespassing into an area controlled statewide by the California Public Utilities Commission, he said.
Even passing the ban as a symbolic gesture against the mandatory installation of SmartMeters would risk major liability if someone took the vote literally and used it to affect a citizen’s arrest against a PG&E agent — or as a reason for stronger vigilance, he said.
“I feel it’s not appropriate to pass a law knowing it can’t be enforced, knowing we do not have jurisdiction,” said Wilson, an attorney who was joined by Kathleen Shaffer and Patrick Slayter in his vote.
But Councilwoman Sarah Gurney and Vice Mayor Michael Kyes disagreed, saying they saw value in adding to public pressure on PG&E by joining other towns and counties in the state that have passed restrictions against the meters.
Mendocino and Marin counties and the Humboldt County city of Rio Dell have enacted moratoriums as have other areas.
Such bans may well violate state laws, Kyes said. But Sebastopol didn’t have a problem passing marijuana regulations that contravene federal drug laws, he said. What’s the difference in this case, he asked.
And regardless of legalities, PG&E is likely to shy away from the publicity of continuing to install the meters in an area that has declared itself against them, he said.
“They’d just as soon keep a low profile,” he said. “I think the risk factor is very low.”
Sebastopol’s council has repeatedly debated a SmartMeter moratorium. It voted on a ban on Oct. 7 when it was defeated 4-1 with Gurney the sole supporter.
But the November election brought two new faces to the board, including Kyes, who brought the matter back up on Tuesday.
Now that the new council has spoken, Kyes said Wednesday that he didn’t see a reason to bring the ban back to council, barring a change in the facts.
“At this point, without some significant change, I think the vote would just continue to be 3-2,” he said.
Despite the split, the board was unanimous in voting Tuesday to support Assembly Bill 37 by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, which would allow cities to opt out of PG&E’s SmartMeter installation program.
While Wilson championed that as the proper course of action, Kyes said a local ban was needed to address the problem in a timely fashion.
No one representing PG&E spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. Nor did anyone speak to defend the utility. The company insists its meters are safe and is continuing installations in Sonoma County.
In Santa Rosa, 67,000 out of 90,000 electric meters and 56,000 out of 75,000 natural gas meters have been upgraded, although installations in the Sebastopol area have lagged.
Staff Writer Bob Norberg contributed to this story