It’s the yellow armbands against the dark suits, as consumer activists (the ones with the yellow armbands) go up against Governor Gray Davis and his Edison International allies, who are making their umpteenth attempt to bail out the corporation’s insolvent Southern California Edison. Most proponents admit that the $2.9 billion rescue actually clocks in around twice that when interest on bonds and new profit levels and tax advantages are added up.
Consumer advocate Harvey Rosenfield and his cohorts from the Santa Monica–based Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights promise an initiative campaign next year to overturn any bailout passed in the waning days of the legislative session. (Paradoxically, an Edison bailout might make Rosenfield’s day, handing him a high national profile.) In the meantime, they’re fanning out around the Capitol with yellow armbands (to distinguish themselves from the phalanx of lobbyists), serenading legislators with the “bailout blues,” crowding into hearings, and protesting outside a posh capital steak house that was the site of a big-ticket fund-raiser for Assembly energy committee chairman and bailout proponent Rod Wright (D–Los Angeles).
That Wright and other business-oriented L.A. Democratic legislators, including Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg (D–Sherman Oaks), are pushing hard for the Edison bailout should be no surprise. Hertzberg has been pushing for it since January; for his part, Wright wants a presidential appointment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
But the presence of such well-known L.A. progressives as Assembly Members Jackie Goldberg and Gil Cedillo on the Davis/Edison list of “yes” votes is a bit of a surprise, though perhaps not a huge one given that L.A. County Labor Federation chief Miguel Contreras, in an L.A. Times op-ed piece, actually criticized Davis for not making his proposed Edison bailout even more costly. “With a friend like Jackie Goldberg,” asks Rosenfield, “do progressives need enemies?”
Cedillo did not return phone calls from the Weekly. Goldberg did and spoke mostly off the record. The Senate passed a tougher bailout in July, which Edison has been loath to embrace. The Assembly version has been in near-constant flux, with the last vestige of tangible assets for the public vanishing last week when 21,000 acres of Sierra watershed lands were excised from the deal. Goldberg says that that action knocked her off the bill and that, as she considers her position now, she is not at all sure she can support the bailout even if the Sierra lands are restored to the deal. This week, the terms changed again. The state would get “conservation easements,” but not ownership of the Sierra lands.
“The L.A. progressives prefer to make nice with Edison and the L.A. power structure and leave it to Johnny Burton to be the bad guy and block the bailout,” says one highly placed Capitol insider, referring to Senate President John Burton (D–San Francisco).
But, with scrutiny, the deal might collapse of its own weight. In addition to consumer groups, environmentalists are increasingly hostile, privately accusing the Assembly Democratic leadership of double-dealing. And legislators are wary of voting to bail out one of the leading champions of the deregulation debacle. Even Assemblyman Dario Frommer (D-Glendale), Davis’ former campaign political director and gubernatorial appointments secretary, is on the fence. “But I’m not wearing a yellow ribbon,” he jokes.