Lead us not

It’s cliche as hell, but PG&E needs to put its money where its mouth is. A few weeks back, just after voters rejected the company’s jaw-droppingly cynical Proposition 16, PG&E CEO Peter Darbee penned an essay for to the San Francisco Chronicle, titled “The price of leadership.”

He opens with this chestnut: “Prime Minister Tony Blair said a few years ago, ‘I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honour, but sometimes it is the price of leadership. And the cost of conviction.’”

In case you’ve never read this or any other California newspaper before, PG&E just plowed $43 million into the June ballot measure Prop. 16 that would have made it virtually impossible to form or expand a public electric utility that would compete with PG&E. In other words, the company tried to buy itself a constitutional amendment giving itself a monopoly.

The rest of Darbee’s weirdly self-congratulatory manifesto is about how environmentally friendly PG&E is. After all, the company parted ways with the California Chamber of Commerce by supporting Assembly Bill 32, California’s landmark climate-change law.

That lost the company some friends, too, Darbee noted. That’s just “the price of our leadership on important issues of the day.”

“By staking out bold positions, we of course invite controversy. But the alternative is to be cowed by fear of criticism into ducking our leadership opportunities and responsibilities. Surely our society needs more leadership, not less.”

Now Darbee wants a cookie because PG&E has announced its opposition to Proposition 23, an equally cynical November ballot measure—backed by conservative groups and out-of-state oil companies—that would suspend A.B. 32 indefinitely.

“We at PG&E are committed to helping California make progress on both its environmental and economic goals, moving us toward a low-carbon economy while minimizing the impact on customers,” Darbee said in a statement last week.

Pretty talk. But at this point, PG&E has been less than bold in its financial commitment to stop Prop. 23. “We’re looking at what we might do,” explained PG&E spokeswoman Cindy Pollard. “But we don’t know yet.”

Well, surely we’re going to need a lot more leadership on this one, not less. And Bites figures the “price of leadership” comes to $43 million for the No on Prop. 23 campaign.

Speaking of priceless business leaders. The Sacramento Metro Chamber has some funny ideas about leadership, too.

The chamber has been a big supporter of Kevin Johnson’s various strong-mayor schemes.

“Our members’ businesses have suffered from [City Hall’s] dysfunction and are desperate for change,” chamber president Matt Mahood told The Sacramento Bee a couple of weeks back, demanding that the obstructionist city council put Mayor Johnson’s SMI-lite proposal on the ballot immediately.

Funny, then, that in an opinion piece in the Bee last Saturday, Mahood urged a “go slow” approach on another possible ballot measure that would raise business taxes and help pay for cops and firefighters and parks and stuff like that.

“The council should form a blue ribbon committee of employers, informed citizens, council members and staff that can look comprehensively at the city’s current tax, fee and permit structure and make formal recommendations.”

So, let’s “look comprehensively” at a few tweaks to the tax code, but any slapped-together ballot measure to completely overhaul our city’s charter will do.

Hypocrisy? Nah, that’s leadership.