Mission Viejo

                                      Council Split on SDG&E Project
                                                                            by Joe Holtzman
On April 6, the Mission Viejo City Council held a public hearing on San Diego Gas & Electric’s proposal to “supersize” one of its substations. The proposed project would nearly double SDG&E's existing facility in neighboring San Juan Capistrano and double the voltage on the transmission lines throughout the town.

A contingent of San Juan residents attended the meeting to plead against the expansion in its present location. Their concerns include the boost in Electromagnetic Fields (“EMF”), which are already dangerously high and which they suspect of causing cancer and other serious health issues among residents who live near the current facility.

Citizens who spoke against the expansion said they understand the need for increased electrical power, but the fact that it’s next to homes, schools and parks in San Juan's historic town center makes it an inappropriate location. 

SDG&E representative Duane Cave was the only one who spoke in favor of the expansion in its present location. Cave did not respond to citizens' concerns about health impacts and visual blight.

The council's task was not to approve or reject the proposal but rather to write a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission about concerns and questions expressed during the hearing. Incredibly, the council voted 3-2 in favor of signing a letter created by SDG&E in support of its project. The letter which had already been drafted prior to the meeting, made no reference to the concerns expressed by citizens during the hearing, or the council discussion.

Councilwoman Wendy Bucknum made the motion to sign the letter of support for SDG&E's project, and Councilman Greg Raths seconded the motion. Bucknum, Raths and Councilman Frank Ury voted in favor, and Council members Cathy Schlicht and Ed Sachs voted no.

Bucknum has ties to SDG&E through the South Orange County Economic Development Coalition, on whose Board she has served. The coalition sells levels of “memberships” for up to $20,000 per year for the “elite” level. SDG&E is a member and Duane Cave of SDG&E is the current Chair of the group. The only issue listed under “Advocacy” on the coalition’s website is an online form supporting SDG&E’s project, which the coalition submits to the CPUC through their website. The fact that Bucknum recently served as Chairperson of the coalition, and that SDG&E’s Duane Cave currently serves as the Chair calls into question whether Bucknum should have recused herself from voting. If not a legal conflict, it appears at the very least to be an ethical lapse.

Councilman Greg Raths had also written a letter of support for SDG&E on City letterhead prior to the council meeting. Raths recently held a fundraiser for himself which SDG&E representatives allegedly attended. 

While it is not yet known whether Bucknum or Raths accepted contribution(s) from SDG&E during their campaigns for City Council, according to state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC)’s campaign finance regulations: 

“Government Code section 84308 disqualifies any "officer" of a public agency, who is running or has run for elective office, from participating in decisions affecting his or her campaign contributors. The law disqualifies the officer from participating in certain proceedings if the official has received campaign contributions of more than $250 from a party, participant or their agents within the 12 months preceding the decision. It also requires disclosure on the record of the proceeding of all campaign contributions received from these persons during that period…”  
Following the April 6 hearing, Mayor Cathy Schlicht said she would not sign the letter composed by SDG&E supporting its own project while ignoring citizen input and the council discussion. She instead wrote a letter to the CPUC expressing the citizens' concerns.

Councilman Frank Ury who voted to sign a letter in support of the project, first ran for a council seat in 2004 on a platform of burying the power lines in north Mission Viejo. After he was elected however, he appeared to forget about power lines and the voters who supported him.

Joe Holtzman, an Industrial Engineering and Manufacturing/Distribution Executive with McDonnell Douglas and Ford Motor Company, is a 32-year resident of Mission Viejo.

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