Regulators zap Stockton’s green energy plan
In 2022, Stockton’s City Council voted to quit dismally mismanaged, ever-more-expensive PG&E and switch to a progressive Oakland-based power provider, East Bay Community Energy Authority. That was supposed to happen by April, 2024.
The plan, which called for EBCE to provide Stockton power that is greener, cheaper, and safer, looked promising. In addition to cutting your energy bill by at least 3%, EBCE would invest in Stockton — funding local storage for cheaper power, installing charging stations at apartments, sponsoring electric bike rebates, electrifying area trucks, and other benefits, all possible because EBCE, being nonprofit, needn’t pay shareholders like PG&E does and so can reinvest profits.
But on June 29 the California Public Utilities Commission added a precondition for Stockton to join EBCE: “Resource Adequacy,” or RA. To oversimplify, Resource Adequacy means EBCE must prove it has adequate energy to service Stockton through a hypothetical worst-case energy crunch.
EBCE never had to jump through this hoop before, Annie Henderson, EBCE’’s vice president of marketing and account services. “RA was previously not a requirement for eligibility to expand our service territory.”
Councilman Dan Wright, who championed the switch, said the rule change came out of the blue. “There was no expectation this could possibly happen.”
What happened involves a complex dispute between the CPUC, outfits such as EBCE, and PG&E, among others (masochists wanting the complex version may read this).
During “heat storms” of recent years, EBCE failed to procure enough energy to satisfy state regulators. EBCE counters that regulatory requirements are ill-conceived and actually worsened the energy shortage. Nevertheless, the CPUC slapped EBCE with numerous citations. Regulators contend EBCE’s alleged failure cost PG&E money (we’ll skip why), a no-no, a claim EBCE disputes. The Oakland power company says regulators devised new rules and applied them retroactively to punish EBCE “for what it has incorrectly deemed to be their improper past behavior.”
Caught in the middle is Stockton.
Wright, along with EBCE executives, trooped to the CPUC’s last meeting to argue that changing the rules was unfair and unnecessary; EBCE had more than enough power; disadvantaged Stockton needed the energy savings and investment; etcetera.
“I got my point of view across,” Wright said. “They took in everything EBCE had to say, then they took the action they were going to take anyway.”
“As you can see, this is a shifting regulatory environment,” Henderson said.
The next time you play Monopoly or poker, try changing the rules midgame, claiming a “shifting regulatory environment.” Add that your new rules apply to your opponents’ past moves, and see how that goes.
To top it off the CPUC allows PG&E to charge you higher rates to soften the unpopular utility’s loss from fed-up customers defecting to outfits such as EBCE. So not only is Stockton’s move to cheaper, greener energy blocked for two years, as is the investment in Stockton, you are chained to PG&E’s higher rates for that period.
One wonders if PG&E pressures regulators to slow-walk the evolution of California’s energy market. An evolution away from a bloated, disaster-prone monopoly. Whatever the case, regulators dealt Stockton a bitter setback.
“They gave us no inclination if we were going to join there would be any kind of delay,” Wright said. “Then we join and all of a sudden we have new rules now. Just wrong on a lot of levels.”
The Messenger of Center Street
If you drive past the Civic Memorial Auditorium in the morning, you probably notice a tall woman in a yellow safety vest vigorously waving a Bible. Laretha Griffin is hard to miss.
Griffin, 35, a Stockton native, said God chose her to get the message out: read the Bible.
“I’m picking up where Moses left off,” Griffin said.
Every day from 10 am to noon, Saturdays excepted, Griffin takes her post at the corner of Center and Oak streets. She holds the Bible high. She points to the spot on her wrist where a wristwatch would go and nods gravely, her way of saying it’s Bible-reading time. She moves energetically about, sometimes stepping into the street for emphasis.
“Stockton is going to be sinless,” she said with world-class optimism.
I asked Griffin why she chose to wave the Bible at passing motorists instead of preaching its contents.
“I feel like speech will get in the way,” Griffin replied. “Try to keep it simple. God is saying now is the time to pick this book up.”
Griffin is homeless. She seems not to mind. “This whole planet is God’s home. As long as I’m on this planet, I’m not homeless.”
Passing cars honk. Occasionally a nonbeliever jeers. Griffin soldiers on, even in 100-degree heat.
“I finally found my occupation,” she said. “I’m a messenger.”
New book: How one man changed Stockton police
In 2012, when Eric Jones became chief, Stockton’s police department had deep-seated problems. Traffic stops reflected racial profiling. Aggressive officers let situations escalate. The department had a reputation for brutality. Its arrest rate was far above the norm. As were officer-involved shootings.
The result was that a broad swath of the city’s population distrusted the police. That undermined crimefighting. A new book, “Walk the Walk: How Three Police Chiefs Defied the Odds and Changed Cop Culture,” chronicles how Jones changed the department.
Chief from 2012 to late 2021, Jones inherited Operation Ceasefire, a program that calls in gang members — the cause of most gun violence — and respectfully offers to help them attain a better life if they leave the gang, while vowing maximum heat if they don’t.
The problem was many gangsters didn’t come when called. “They were used to the SPD being all stick, no carrot,’’ writes author Neil Gross.
“It began to dawn on Eric that he couldn’t serve the city well — that he couldn’t bring about a substantial reduction in crime through programs like Ceasefire or get cooperation from citizens — if people had no reason to trust that cops were acting in good faith.”
Jones found a model of reform called procedural justice: if citizens see authority as legitimate, they are more apt to be law abiding.
Jones put cops through implicit bias training. He formed a community advisory board to give citizens input. He went on a “listening tour” of informal neighborhood visits. He made “PJ” part of officer evaluations and promotions. When citizens complained, he pulled body cam footage. He did all this gradually and with a soft sell so officers could adjust.
The state held up Stockton’s reforms as a model for other departments. The New York Times and other media gave it national attention. Jones became a sought-after speaker.
It would be naïve to say all cops bought into PJ. But enough did so that Jones’ reforms worked. The Urban Institute, polling disadvantaged communities, found the percentage of Stockotnians who trusted police and thought they treated people with dignity and respect almost doubled from 2015 to 2017, even though that number went down in other cities.
The impact on crime is difficult to judge because usually clear crime statistics are muddied by the police department’s devilish difficulty with acute understaffing. Cops may be doing their job better, but there are often around 120 fewer of them than there should be.
As best I can interpret the stats, crime in Stockton was going down significantly before the manpower shortage.
Eric Jones moved to Sacramento. He now works to infuse the same type of reforms into Sacramento’s criminal justice system. Jones is pleased that his reforms are being carried on in Stockton.
“Procedural Justice is still there, still part of the curriculum, still built into the evaluations and measurement for promotions. That means it stuck,” he said, adding, “I hope the leadership of the organization continues to really prioritize those things and not check boxes.”
Hats off to a man who left Stockton a better city.
Investigative columnist Mike Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. His views are his own and do not represent those of the Stocktonia management and staff. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.