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Lack of Latino appointees on Sonoma Clean Power panels raises concern


The board of directors of Sonoma Clean Power filled 13 spots on two key public advisory panels Wednesday without a single Latino face, causing some board members to question the outreach effort to recruit volunteers.

“Given that this is 40 percent of our population — soon to be 50 percent — this is a huge oversight … We blew it, quite frankly,” said Director Shirlee Zane, one of two members from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.
CEO Geof Syphers defended his recruitment effort, saying he had placed advertisements and public service announcements with major local newspapers and radio stations and posted the unpaid positions on the Internet, but he admitted he had not approached the newspaper La Voz or radio station KBBF-FM, both bilingual news outlets popular with local Hispanics.

“I share your concern and would have liked to have had some more applicants from that community,” he told Zane, “and I would like to do better next time.”

Sonoma Clean Power hopes to begin offering electricity to its first customers, mostly businesses in Sonoma County and several of its cities — Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Cotati, Windsor and Sebastopol — in May. The bulk of residential customers will join in stages by 2016. The agency will compete directly with PG&E and customers are free to chose to remain with the older utility.

Zane said the lack of Latino representation on Clean Power committees could hurt the participation rate if PG&E does aggressive marketing in Spanish.

The eight board members appeared to agree with Zane’s dismay at the lack of diversity on the panels, one of which is designed to advise on rates and the other on business policies at the fledgling county power agency, but they disagreed on how to remedy the problem.

Several, including Chairwoman Susan Gorin, the other representative from the Board of Supervisors, suggested appointing a non-voting liaison from the Latino community, with an eye toward appointing that person to a voting position when one comes open.

Others, however, dismissed that idea.

“You’re going to say ‘you can come to the meetings, but you can’t vote?’ I think that’s an insult,” said Director Jake Ours, a Santa Rosa City Council member.

Zane suggested amending the agreement among the city and county governments to add an additional member to the rate-setting advisory committee, but that prospect appeared to alarm Syphers and several other board members. The agency is under a tight administrative and legal schedule to get power flowing by May 1 and the process of amending the delicately-negotiated agreement, even for a relatively minor change, could take many weeks and derail the timetable, warned Director Steve Barbose, a Sonoma City Council member.

In the end, the board unanimously approved the advisory panel appointments recommended by a subcommittee of directors, with only the promise from Syphers to recruit Latino members in the future.

The new “Business Operations Committee” will review the contracts and internal processes of the agency. It includes four energy sector consultants — chairwoman Susan Briski and members Harry Davitian, Bill Mattinson, and Paul Brophy — and retired Healdsburg City Attorney Mike Gogna.

The authority’s general counsel, Steve Shupe, said that because members are so tightly tied to the energy industry they would have to be carefully advised on possible conflicts of interest. Should any of their firms attempt to contract with the agency, he said, the members would have to resign from the panel under a state law that forbids public officials from participating on both the public and private sides of a contract, even indirectly. In lesser matters where the economic interests of a member’s business might be at stake, the member could simply sit out the discussion and not vote, he said.

The second panel is less likely to present conflict problems, Shupe said, since it advises on rates that would apply broadly to all businesses and residents.

That panel will be chaired by Dick Dowd, a member of the Santa Rosa Board of Public Utilities. He told the directors that Santa Rosa’s attorneys had advised him that the dual position should not pose a conflict, but should one arise, he would bow out of one of the two panels.

Representing commercial customers will be Tim Holmes and John Parry, both energy sector consultants. Representing residents will be Susan Amato, Bob Williamson, Margaret Spaulding and June Brashares.

In other actions Wednesday, the directors approved a benefits package for prospective Clean Power employees, including an allowance of up to $1,250 per month for health care coverage. That is substantially less than the $1,720 that Syphers had predicted to the board last month, but he said the bidders for the health care contracts are now predicting lower premiums than previously discussed.

Employees will be offered retirement in the form of a “457 plan,” which is similar to the familiar 401(k) retirement savings account. Syphers said the 457 plan is easier and cheaper for the agency to administer than either a 401(k) or a combination of the two plans.

(You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or sean.scully@pressdemocrat.com.)

17 Responses to “Lack of Latino appointees on Sonoma Clean Power panels raises concern”

  1. Accountable says:

    @Larry Watkins – I agree with you that Zane is truly incompetent. Perhaps she should spend more time informing herself about the county she represents. For starters, she can get up to speed by reading the official Sonoma County Economic and Demographic Profile…http://edb.sonoma-county.org/documents/2011/economic_demographic_profile_2011.pdf. But, I won’t hold my breath!

  2. James Bennett says:

    Being placated while we’re being screwed.

    If our officials are no concerned about being politically correct, why not adhere to the dynamic central to representative government.

    Like our Constitution, transparency.

    When we stick to our rule book, we’re always PC.

  3. Steveguy says:

    How do you say ” Opt Out ” in Spanish ? Is that why they shy away ?

  4. Steveguy says:

    Maybe they figure to use Latinos for installing the Power Panels.

    Semantics, just semantics from these crooks.

  5. Rush Hour says:

    Yeah, Shirlee is right on on this one. The entire process of selecting public members to help oversee this 200 million dollar use of public money has been rushed, rushed, rushed.

    In the charge to get Sonoma Clean Power up to speed – on their own self-imposed timeline – they pushed the cities to sign on without doing their due diligence. Only Santa Rosa had the strength and finances to stop the train for a few weeks to try to get answers and demand changes.

    Now the high-priced CEO jammed through a schedule for getting the public involved, and of course there wasn’t time to do it right. What’s he paid for?

    If this is the way SCP is going to continue to operate, we’re in trouble.

    Thank you Shirlee for trying to slow down this train wreck so it can get done right. Maybe.

  6. Skippy says:

    Let’s judge the qualifications of an individual by the color of their skin. How predictably liberal. Racists.

  7. Ani Weaver says:

    Amazing that the Press Democrat has finally acknowledged bilingual media, including La Voz Bilingual Newspaper,as having an important place in the community. La Voz has been in business for almost 13 years and has received numerous awards of distinction. The newspaper has been in the black for 13 years with no advertising sales staff and it is not a nonprofit. What other publication can say that? La Voz is just simply popular and a great way to get the word out to the rest of us. Or, as Supervisor Shirley Zane puts it, …given 40% of our population–soon to be 50%–this is a huge oversight… [not to notify the Spanish-speaking community of important events].

  8. observer says:

    Sonoma Clean Power didn’t deliberately exclude Latinos.

    It deliberately excluded ordinary citizens. 40% of whom are Latinos.

    Sonoma Clean Power should be a community wide science experiment in clean energy.

    Especially, to engage the kids in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) applications on their own doorstep, in their own daily lives.

    Do you think Samsung or Google or Apple would like to see 10,000 Sonoma County science students using their smartphones to calculate CO2 levels in their own homes? Do you think they would help develop video content (like Khan Academy https://www.khanacademy.org/) to run on those smartphones? Do you think they might donate those smartphones? Do you think Verizon or AT&T would find a way to make those phone charges dead cheap? Would the Gates Foundation or other big social contribution funds help find a way to support a mass experiment in climate protection education delivered over smartphones? Do you think that Santa Rosa JC and Sonoma State would like to bring speakers and online curriculum to support this? Do think the top climate change scientists in the world would agree to be guest lecturers on a video education platform for kids? Could we use the Community Media Center in Santa Rosa (http://cmedialab.org) to galvanize this?

    Can you imagine what it might do to accelerate Latino kids’ college preparation if they could show that they created a smartphone app that measures and explains the greenhouse gas effects of household waste disposal? Do you think HP or Intel or Cisco would want to hear about the chance to sponsor a million dollar project to zoom Latino kids’ scores in STEM at Roseland Prep?

    Yes. Yes. Yes. ETC Yes.

    Except this.

    The mantra—and survival rule—of the BOS, Water Agency, County Counsel, Auditor Controller and certain other insiders in our County government is this: perception is reality.

    Here’s what they actually believe: that they can fool nearly all the people nearly all the time; and that they have zero accountability for their indifference to actual public service.

    They’re running Sonoma Clean Power to give inflated, no bid contracts to friends of the Supervisors; who in turn recycle cash to the Supervisors via campaign contributions and other creative means; who in turn appoint agency and department heads whose real job descriptions are: bagman, mouthpiece.

    Sonoma Clean Power and its constituent units never in its wildest dreams intended to single out Latinos for exclusion. That’s because Sonoma Clean Power & Co never in its wildest dreams conceived of Sonoma Clean Power as having anything to do with niceties like lowering electricity rates, lowering local CO2 emissions, boosting employment, enhancing science education in Sonoma County or using Sonoma Clean Power in any way, shape or form to broaden community engagement: including Latinos.

  9. brown Act Jack says:

    Another fit of pique because someone was not included.

    There is no requirement that all races of people must be included in any group of people.

    As soon as you start thinking that way you have racist thought in your mind.

    Someone must be excluded because someone of a different ethnid background is needed to make sure that no one is excluded.

    How about just making sure that all of the members are economists or electrical engineers to make sure they know what the heck they are doing?

    But, perhaps, it is just a desire to have another group share in the division of the spoils of politics.

  10. Reality Check says:

    Is it possible that Latinos are the only demographic missing from the board? I doubt it. But when politics, not policy, is the game being played, I guess this is what’s deemed important.

    Zane, who can be counted on to say the dumbest thing on any subject, frets that Latinos might no participate if the board “lacks representation.”

    Does anyone, of any gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or whatever, actually check before buying a product to see if “their group” is represented on the board?

  11. Greg Karraker says:

    “We blew it, quite frankly.” — Zane.

    “I would like to do better next time.” — Syphers.

    I wonder if we see this sort of mea culpa after Sonoma Ponzi Power’s first round of price negotiations with actual power companies.

    On the bright side, there is a way around their lack of Latino representation: Just get Vice Chairman Mark Landman to declare that he’s a Latino. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s bent the truth.

  12. Jackson says:

    So you’re telling us that Latinos — just because they have brown skin — somehow *think* differently?

    Isn’t that ….. the “R” word?

  13. This was the plan says:

    Great job Greg to keep all the latino’s in the dark. You need all those folks to stay in the dark until the opt-out period is over. Could you imagine what would happen if the word got out in the spanish community that this is a scam!
    We only hire the brightest and the best people to these positions. Greg knows exactly what he is doing. In fact he should get a performance bonus for being so witty!

  14. Larry Watkins says:

    The Hispanic population of Sonoma County is 24.9 percent, not 40%, soon to be “50 percent” as Supervisor Zane stated. She is wrong on most things and who knows where is got her population numbers?

    The best energy that Sonoma Clean Power can deliver is hot air and this is just another example of what is going on.

    This is a social movement, not an energy alternative. Another leftist boondoggle paid for by the poor taxpayers.

  15. Steveguy says:

    How many Asians ? How many Jews ? How many Italians, and how many Swedes ? How many Finns and how many Poles yet alone those at the actual poles ?

    How many should be Mexican, how many Honduran, That is a conundrum. Oh me oh my we need a Rep from Uruguay! !

    Maybe a German, maybe a Frenchie, maybe a combo of both, can we get over race already ? Really

  16. Emerson Burkett says:

    Hmmmmm, so, no Latinos on the Advisory Panels; wow, I am shocked, shocked, shocked. Well,actually, not at all; the Power Elites, “Movers and Shakers”, NE Santa Rosa Folks, and their Minions, probably do not know any Latinos. Besides, it is all an “Inside Job”; only “Friends of People in High Places” need apply; the “sub-committee of Directors”, after all, made the recommendations. Gee, I bet Syphers is out beating the bushes, right now, seeking some qualified Latino folks.
    Oh, I am sure the folks with “conflicts of interest” will never do anything unseemly. By the way I have this pretty bridge connecting Marin and SF that you can have for a song.

  17. James Bennett says:

    ‘Lack of transparency and accountability raises concern among citizens’.