A day before the state Public Utilities Commission casts a critical vote on a recommended electricity rate increase, Gov. Gray Davis on Wednesday appointed his staff director to the five-member body, shifting majority control of the board to the Democratic governor’s appointees.
But the governor, who said staff director and energy adviser John Stevens will serve temporarily on the commission, is not taking a position on the rate increase itself, according to spokesman Steve Maviglio.
“It’s just a proposal,” Maviglio said of the 9 percent residential rate increase recommended Wednesday by the commission. “Who knows what’s going to happen (today), so it’s premature for him to take a position.”
Maviglio said Davis “will probably have something to say” after the commission acts on the rate proposal.
Stevens will replace Josiah Neeper, an appointee of Gov. Pete Wilson whose term on the board expired Tuesday. Stevens will join two other Davis appointees – Loretta Lynch and Carl Wood – and two holdovers from the Wilson administration.
“It is important to have a commissioner with thorough knowledge of the challenges facing California ratepayers and utilities due to the negative fallout from deregulation,” Davis said in a prepared statement. “I can think of no one who is more well-versed in this issue than John Stevens.”
Critics acknowledged that the appointment of Stevens indicates Davis clearly is taking responsibility for the rate increase ultimately approved by the commission, but they condemned him for not choosing a more independent voice to tackle such a critical issue.
“Gov. Davis’ agenda will be enacted, and his agenda is rate hikes for consumers and bailouts for utility companies,” said Douglas Heller of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.
Heller said he was appalled that Davis will not take a formal position on the rate proposal.
“It’s distressing that Gov. Davis would try to stick his head in the sand on this,” Heller said. “He cannot elude this. This is Gov. Davis’ rate hike.”
Administration aides acknowledged privately that the governor expects the rate increase will be approved at today’s meeting.
Stevens has been Davis’ chief adviser on the energy crisis for the last six months. He was named the governor’s staff director in April after a long career as a legislative staff member, including tours as adviser to former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, D-Los Angeles, and longtime chief adviser to former Assemblyman Richard Katz, D-Sylmar.
Davis said a permanent replacement for Stevens on the PUC will come later this month, freeing Stevens to return to the governor’s staff.
The temporary appointment of close gubernatorial advisers to boards and commissions at key times is not new to Davis. In the two years he has served as governor, Davis has used the maneuver several times, including appointing policy director Tal Finney and two others to short stints on the Agricultural Labor Relations Board and Finney to the PUC.
And when Davis was chief of staff to former Gov. Jerry Brown in 1979, Brown appointed him to a temporary shift on the California Horse Racing Board in an attempt to mediate a labor dispute between striking parimutuel clerks and three California tracks.