GOVERNOR’S PLAN FOR ‘POWER POLICE’ MONITORING CALLED UNENFORCEABLE
The Daily News of Los Angeles
Gov. Gray Davis‘ energy conservation plan that requires law enforcement agencies to police outdoor lighting at shopping malls and car dealerships is unenforceable and contains no funding for overtime or training, officials charged with implementing the plan said Thursday.
The executive order by Gov. Gray Davis, released in detail Wednesday, requires businesses to make “a good faith effort” to cut by half the juice from outdoor lights after quitting time.
Police are to enforce the plan starting Thursday. The penalty for violating the order: a $1,000 fine.
But police officials said it won’t work and critics called it bogus conservation.
“I don’t think it’s realistic,” said Harvey Rosenfield, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica, a fervent critic of Davis’ efforts to solve the state energy crisis.
“That’s not going to be a deterrent. That’s not going to work because there aren’t enough cops and there are too many light bulbs.”
The plan to cut outdoor power on car dealers, supermarkets, gas stations, shopping centers and malls not only puts property and residents at risk in cities with power to spare, critics say, it also will cost millions to implement.
The Los Angeles Police Department, without further direction from the state, said it wouldn’t enforce the order. The city police union seeks $2 million from the state to pay for overtime enforcement, and other agencies doubt the program can work.
The difficulty, police agencies say, is enforcement. How can police officers trained to fight crime – trained to love light as a deterrent to criminals – judge how a business should cut energy use with no guiding principles on how to enforce the order?
“I’m a dumb cop, right? How do I know if they’re cutting their lights by half, right?” said Officer Jason Lee, an LAPD spokesman. “Let’s say they have a car lot – do they want half (the lights) off, or what? Do they want us to count light bulbs? … We weren’t part of it, we haven’t seen it and that’s where we are at on this.”
The essence of Davis’ plan, drafted after input by Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and some law enforcement agencies and trade groups, is simple in concept if unwieldy in execution: retailers will be encouraged to cut nighttime power in half without compromising public safety, private property and light, if possible.
To help businesses comply, the state will enact comprehensive outreach using “best practice” conservation advice, available on the Internet, government examples of energy conservation, merit awards and police prodding.
After March 15, business owners are encouraged to document efforts to reduce consumption. Those who fail to heed numerous warnings from local police to cut the juice face prosecution and misdemeanor fines up to $1,000.
Supporters argue that the plan is workable because of the expected cooperation between police and local business.
“They’re not expected to be (power police),” said Mike Guerin, chief of law enforcement for the state Office of Emergency Services, who helped write the plan and who chafed at the term.
“The whole crux of this is for law enforcement agencies to pass along information to retailers on the need to cut back energy use after hours – that’s not to say that anyone will count kilowatts or light bulbs for them to comply.”
Los Angeles County sheriff’s Cmdr. David Betkey, who helped draft the plan, said: “It’s not just a law enforcement issue – it’s the right thing to do.”
The problem with the Sheriff’s Department, however, is that there is no training program to teach deputies how to enforce the order, officials said.
“There’s no gauge to reduce; we’re not experts,” said Sgt. Rick Myers, a department spokesman. “We don’t have voltmeters or anything.” Law enforcement officials, who say they already are stretched thin, were not thrilled with the idea of becoming “power police” on top of their normal duties.
“We don’t know what the caseload is going to be like yet, but it’s going to be more work,” said Sandi Gibbons, District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman. “We have no choice. Our job is to enforce the law, and if that means taking on more work, that’s what we have to do.”
Local police agencies, already dealing with chronic officer shortage problems, were uncertain how the new duties would affect their departments.
“We are way understaffed and overworked now,” said Glendale police Sgt. Rick Young. “It’s easy for legislators to enact laws without thinking through the impact on local agencies. But if that’s the law, we’ll have to do what we can.”
Sgt. Ralph Elvira, of the California Highway Patrol’s Southern Division, said the department expects to deal with the issue mostly on a complaint basis.
The CHP, which helped draft Davis’ plan, will have to beef up patrols to assist motorists stranded on freeways darkened by a reduction of retail lighting.
“We’re not necessarily going to go out there and cite everyone we see,” he said. “We expect to give a lot of warnings and write letters first.”
While Sacramento has not clearly outlined how the enforcement should be handled, an order to make inspections one of the department’s primary responsibilities would likely require additional officers, he said.
A spokesman from the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs, an Ontario-based union representing 5,000 police officers, said the governor’s plan is practical.
“The officers are out there on the streets anyway, they’re working nights, they know where the crime is,” said Executive Director Monty Holden. “We’re trying to support the governor, we don’t think it’s a burden.”
Some businesses said the governor’s plan is costly and rushes businesses to comply.
“Our thing is safety,” said Miguel Gutierrez, a Southern California spokesman for Albertson’s. “You have a family, you don’t want to go into a dark parking lot.
“It’s a huge, huge thing that needs to be done,” he said of the power reduction, made difficult by the fact that Albertson’s doesn’t own a majority of its parking lots. “It’ll cost millions of dollars.”
Jim Ackles, vice president of energy management at Macerich Co. in Dallas, which owns the Panorama Mall and 23 others in California, said he’s already cut usage by 6 percent – enough to furnish power to 500 homes.
“With few exceptions, we’ve turned them (the lights) off,” he said. “We realize there’s a crisis, and we’ll do whatever we can to reduce loads. Unless there’s a safety issue, we darken the malls at night.”
Davis’ plan also calls for government to lead by example. Los Angeles city and county officials said they have already taken steps to reduce energy consumption at public buildings by at least 5 percent and believe they have achieved that goal.
“The mayor issued an executive order in January to all departments requiring them to begin reducing energy,” said Peter Hidalgo, a spokesman for Mayor Richard Riordan. “Also, the mayor will be traveling to Utah next week to meet with state officials there to discuss energy issues.”
The city is seeking to open a third coal-powered plant in Utah to generate more energy for the city.
Los Angeles County implemented an energy conservation plan two months ago, said Howard Choy, director of the county’s energy management division.
“The Board of Supervisors ordered us to have a 5 percent cut in energy countywide and an additional 2 to 5 percent by the end of the year,” Choy said. “We don’t have exact figures, but our guesstimates are that we are above that original goal.”