Message control

What’s so funny ’bout memorandum of understanding?: So Monday, the state court of appeals issued a terse and much belated statement of the obvious: that the public has the right to know what they’re voting on—especially when it involves about a billion dollars of taxpayer funds.

The story isn’t so much what’s in the super-secret half-baked memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city and county and the Maloofs. It’s that city and county officials had the brass to say it was nobody’s business—even as the deal limped toward this Tuesday’s election.

There were only a couple of revelations in the MOU. The fact that the government was willing to turn much of the arena site into a sea-of-asphalt parking lot in an effort to appease the team owners—an arrangement starkly different than the hip, vibrant entertainment district depicted in the glossy mailers for Measures Q and R—strikes Bites as something good to know before election day.

Conventional wisdom is that the voters are going to slap Measures Q and R away like a half-hearted layup. And for once, Bites figures conventional wisdom is probably right. The thing is that the arena deal could have been sold to voters, if only the arena backers hadn’t dropped the ball at every chance they got. Trying to keep the MOU secret was just one of many miscues.

Local Assemblyman Dave Jones figures that if voters do reject Q and R, it’ll settle the issue of giving tax money to wealthy team owners once and for all. “That should be the end of proposals for publicly financed sports facilities,” he said. Bites isn’t so sure about that. Voters get suckered all the time, but it does take a little finesse.

The AstroTurf is always greener: For example, the pro-arena team could have taken a page from PG&E’s playbook. The private utility never has departed from its script to defeat public power Measures H and I in Yolo County and Measure L in Sacramento County.

And PG&E has been bold about it. For example, the company recently appropriated the bicycle logo of the city of Davis and a campaign-sign image from the No on X committee—a Davis group that successfully fought off a big development project on the outskirts of the city last year—in its mailers to Davis voters. PG&E didn’t screw around with asking permission to use the images—they just took them. The city of Davis sent a letter to the state Fair Political Practices Commission demanding an investigation.

The move is an obvious attempt to get voters to identify PG&E with the particular brand of upper-crust grassroots politics that dominate Davis. You’d think that would be a tough sell.

“It’s an outrage and it’s misleading and it’s pretty slimy,” said former Davis Mayor Ken Wagstaff, who was one of the leaders of the No on X campaign. “And I don’t think we’re going to be able to do anything about it legally.”

Wagstaff said the groups have demanded that PG&E stop using the imagery, and wants the utility to issue a statement saying PG&E is in no way connected to No on X. PG&E has totally ignored them. See, that’s poise.

Captive audience: Meanwhile, Assembly member Dave Jones (who is, in fact, omnipresent) joined state Senator Deborah Ortiz on Tuesday to call for legislative investigation into PG&E’s use of ratepayer money to spread political propaganda. If you read last week’s cover story on PG&E’s tactics in this election (see “Power grab,” October 26), you already know what Jones is talking about: PG&E is using its telephone service to broadcast messages opposing the three public-power measures to hapless customers calling with questions about their bills.

Jones and company want the Senate and Assembly utilities committees to look into this suspected abuse of ratepayer funds. And he’s pushing for legislation prohibiting regulated utilities from spending ratepayer money on politics. “The state has given PG&E a monopoly to serve certain areas. Their customers are captive. They have no place to go.”

Fair enough, but doesn’t Jones—who’s up for re-election this Tuesday—have his own campaign to run?