Newly elected Republican supervisor Kristin Gaspar made loud and clear her opposition to funding a study about breaking up Sempra Energy's San Diego power monopoly: “In my view, when you’re ready to move forward and pull the trigger, that’s when you do the feasibility study."
Thus, did a motion by supervisor Dianne Jacob to explore so-called Community Choice Aggregation — a system that would detour the giant San Diego–based utility holding company in favor of alternative suppliers — go down in flames on February 15 as Gaspar, Greg Cox, and Bill Horn (with fellow Republican Ron Roberts absent) declined to second it.
For his part, Horn cited the $200,000 price of the study proposed by Jacob, adding, "If climate change is bringing us all this rain, I'm all for it," according to a Union-Tribune account.
Still, Jacob continued her pitch:
“I suggest there’s a good reason to at least explore the feasibility of this. There seem to be a lot of other areas of this state and in this county that believe in competition, and they believe in bringing choices to consumers. I’m not sure why anybody would go against that.”
But Gaspar was adamant: "I ask you, ‘What’s the rush?’ Let’s get this right, not rushed.”
Her position aligned neatly with that of Sempra and its subsidiary, San Diego Gas & Electric.
“Today, we’re told that if government is in control of procurement, we’re going to have more renewables and lower emissions," said Sempra Energy's Frank Urtasan in the U-T’s report. "But actual experience makes this conclusion highly questionable.”
Proponents of the study had expressed another view.
"The County already purchases its own electricity on the open market without SDG&E involvement, saving millions of dollars annually," asserted ex–Del Mar mayor Donald Mosier and former gynecologist Bruce Bekkar in a February 14 U-T op-ed piece.
"We are simply asking the Board of Supervisors to investigate whether a [Community Choice Aggregation] could accomplish the same for local citizens and businesses."
That Sempra carried the day came as no surprise to longtime followers of the politically connected power company, whose well-compensated board of directors includes Kathleen L. Brown, sister of Democratic governor Jerry Brown, as well as his longtime associate and one-term Democratic congresswoman Lynn Schenk, along with ex–San Diego city councilman William Jones, another Democrat.
When the governor's critics linked his slowness to act during last year's massive methane leak at a Sempra facility in Porter Ranch to his sister, a Brown spokesman told Newsweek the charge was “scurrilous and irresponsible."
Meanwhile, back in San Diego, county campaign disclosure records show 15 executives from Sempra and SDG&E came up with a total of $6100 for Gaspar's campaign committee between September 30 and October 19,
But Sempra's biggest contribution for Gaspar was discretely funneled into a so-called independent expenditure committee calling itself Citizens for Fair and Honest Leadership Supporting Kristin Gaspar for Supervisor 2016.
The four "citizens" responsible for funding the group, records show, were the largest political action committees currently operating in the county, including the Infrastructure PAC of the Associated General Contractors, with $35,000; the Building Industry Association of San Diego County PAC, with $30,000; and the Sacramento-based California Real Estate Political Action Committee, also known as CREPAC, with $25,000.
The fourth and largest donor to "Citizens" was the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC, with a total $272,000, quietly fed to the pro-Gaspar committee in separate transactions over a five-month period from April 26 to September 21.
From there, the money trail snakes back to Sempra. Records show that between May 13 and November 7, the utility came up with a total $52,500 in three contributions to the Chamber PAC. On May 13, Sempra kicked in $5000 to the Building Industry PAC.
Besides furnishing munificent levels of campaign cash to Gaspar and other politicos the company favors, Sempra executives have embedded themselves on the boards of local institutions, from the San Diego County Taxpayers Association to the Voice of San Diego, the nonprofit news-and-opinion website, where Eugene “Mitch” Mitchell, vice president of state governmental affairs and external affairs for SDG&E and Southern California Gas Company, holds forth.
Mitchell kicked in $600 to Gaspar's campaign kitty on October 4.
Sempra has also been a frequent and generous funder of One San Diego, a nonprofit established by San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer to increase his political visibility in poorer parts of the city.