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Judge upholds wording of Measure B's ballot argument

He refuses to remove key passages warning that Los Angeles' solar energy initiative in the March 3 election would create a monopoly.

January 09, 2009|David Zahniser

A judge on Thursday refused to remove key passages used by neighborhood activists in their ballot argument against Measure B, the solar energy proposal heading to Los Angeles voters in the March 3 election.

Mitchell Schwartz, a political strategist who staged Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's 2005 inaugural gala, had asked the judge to take out wording in the voter pamphlet warning that the solar plan would give a monopoly to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union that represents employees at the city's Department of Water and Power.

But Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe said the measure, which has been embraced by Villaraigosa and the City Council, is open to a range of interpretations. "The proposition is so vague and so encompassing that speculation about just about anything is fair game," he said.

Supporters of Measure B said they scored one important victory, by forcing foes of the solar plan to remove a passage stating that no public hearings had been held on the proposal. Instead, the argument will say that the DWP did not provide "engineering or operational input" before Measure B went on the ballot.

Yaffe issued a tentative ruling that is expected to become final today. But his statements did little to end a heated debate over the solar proposal, which seeks to add 400 megawatts of solar energy to rooftops and parking lots by 2014.

Those who signed the argument against Measure B accused allies of the mayor of using expensive lawyers to squelch the opposition's political views. After Schwartz went to court, signers of the ballot argument hired a lawyer -- city attorney candidate Noel Weiss -- and dubbed themselves "the Solar 8."

The group's members include former DWP board president Nick Patsaouras, now a candidate for city controller, and former Los Angeles Daily News editor Ron Kaye.

In his tentative ruling, Yaffe also refused to remove language that warned that "no competitive bidding" would be used by the solar program. And he declined to take out wording that warned that the DWP would use "outdated technology" for the initiative. "The judge did the right thing," Weiss said.

Schwartz, who served last year as state campaign director for President-elect Barack Obama, did not attend the hearing. But attorney Stephen Kaufman, who represented Schwartz, said opponents of Measure B had made false or misleading statements that would be corrected during the campaign.

In the opponents' ballot argument, "the implication is that this is a self-serving deal being foisted on the voters here, and that is simply not the case," Kaufman told the judge.

The measure was proposed by Working Californians, an advocacy group headed by two high-level officials from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The Measure B campaign paid for Schwartz's legal fees.

Schwartz, president of the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters, was part of a select group that attended a Feb. 29 presentation on the solar plan by the union's Local 18 business manager, Brian D'Arcy. His public relations firm, Bomaye Co., provided services to the DWP from 1999 to 2003. During that period, the firm helped promote the DWP's green initiatives, including one of its existing solar programs.

Schwartz's latest firm, skImpact, has a contract with CH2M Hill, a company that has been accused by the DWP of overbilling. But Schwartz said he is not doing any work related to the city or its electrical utility -- and only joined the lawsuit at Kaufman's request.

"I'm not part of the insider crew at all," he said. "I know them, but I'm not part of them. I just think the solar thing is really good."

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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