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Public Power Defeats Don't Deter Backers

Election: They allege irregularities in San Francisco's ballot count after two propositions narrowly lose.

November 13, 2001|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — While their visions of unseating Pacific Gas & Electric here appear short-circuited, supporters of two narrowly defeated public power measures vowed Monday to continue their fight--either at the polls or in the courtroom.

In results released late Sunday, Measure F lost by 533 votes, with 64,272 in favor of the measure and 64,805 against it. Proposition I lost by 4,361 votes, with 60,107 in favor and 64,468 against.

Voters solidly approved two solar energy measures that advocates say could establish San Francisco as one of the nation's largest solar power producers.

On Monday, the battle over public power brought claims of counting irregularities within the city's Department of Elections that supporters of the measures say leaves them little choice but to sue for a recount.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who supported public power, said city officials have asked the secretary of state and city attorney to investigate the vote count.

Public power advocates are critical of Department of Elections Director Tammy Haygood, who took several thousand absentee ballots received in the mail on election day to a site away from City Hall for counting. Haygood said the move was done to prevent any anthrax scares or hoaxes. "Ballots were moved that were supposed to be under lock and key," Ammiano said. "There seems to be a Rosemary Woods-style two hours missing to the proceedings. People want to have an answer to that."

Medea Benjamin, a candidate for a Metropolitan Utility District board that would have been created under Proposition I, said public power lawyers were reviewing the results Monday.

"There were just too many mysterious things happening," she said. "We deserve a better explanation of what went on from election night, when we were ahead, to this squeaker of a loss.

"C'mon, ballots taken to a different place because of some anthrax scare? That's pretty unusual. Certainly we want to challenge the way the counting was done."

Haygood said she was offended by any suggestion of impropriety.

"I'm really sorry that people who have spent a lot of their lives on public power came to be defeated by voters, but for them to try to impute that on us is unfair," she said. "We counted the votes we had. They might not have gotten out the voters they wanted. But our handling of ballots was done secretly and professionally."

Proposition I would have created an independent municipal utility district to provide power to about 365,000 local customers. Measure F would have expanded the city's Public Utilities Commission into a department of water and power, allowing an elected board to buy PG&E's infrastructure.

Viewing the measures as a threat to PG&E's livelihood, the utility and its supporters spent $2 million on a campaign that included media ads painting public power as risky.

"I think this election is over," said Jon Kaufman, campaign manager for the PG&E-sponsored Coalition for Affordable Public Services. "We were impressed with the victory we had. There apparently is no public mandate to take over PG&E's distribution system."

Ammiano said he hoped the investigations would be concluded by next month, when San Francisco officials will be required to certify the election results.

"Before we jump into litigation, we want to see what those investigations reveal," he said. "But I'm hoping that if any questions remain, the Board of Supervisors won't vote to certify the election."

Until then, public power supporters remain unbowed. Even if efforts at a recount fail, they plan to reintroduce the issue as early as March. "We're not conceding defeat," said organizer Ross Mirkarimi. "The relationship between PG&E and the city of San Francisco is bound for divorce."

Benjamin said her pain over the loss will be compounded one day soon when she goes to her mailbox: "I will certainly not be a happy camper when I have to pay that next PG&E bill."

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