San Francisco jolts public power to life

Strip away the posturing and bracelet-trading from San Francisco politics, and you’re left with slow, patient, powerful forces that know how to get their way.

Over years and even decades, The City has a way of cranking out major changes to key municipal systems — even against the stated wishes of San Francisco voters. At a nearly imperceptibly slow yet inexorably certain pace, the balloted positions of the City’s electorate seem to mean less and less.

The latest example is Tuesday’s 8-3 “veto-proof” Board of Supervisors vote to roll out CleanPowerSF, a greened flavor of a public power plan that certain civic forces have fancied for decades.

The plan gives San Francisco power consumers the alternative of opting out of the program and continuing to receive power from big bad PG&E, or switching over to a more expensive but much greener pool of renewable sources managed by a subsidiary of big bad Royal Dutch Shell.

Monthly power bills for San Francisco residents will jump under the program, which is planned for launch by the middle of next year. Costs will rise because green power is in greater demand and more expensive these days on the open market.

What’s conspicuously missing from this plan seems to be any sort of San Francisco voter approval. Quite the contrary, City voters have a long-standing tradition of turning away public power propositions, sometimes by considerable margins.

Most recently in 2008, City voters thumped Proposition H 59 to 41 percent. In 2002, though, Proposition D failed by the thinnest of margins — 533 votes — amid heavy PG&E spending and rampant suspicions of voter fraud.

We haven’t seen a clear explanation of exactly why City voters aren’t required to approve this plan, especially since 375,000 of them will be automatically enrolled in the program as soon as next summer, along with a significant bump in energy costs.

An expected veto from Mayor Ed Lee was more or less mooted by the Board’s 8-3 margin, the same vote which would be required to override a mayoral veto.