Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The outrage (or lack thereof) over 'Smartmeters' and a new book looks at the life of Cesar Chavez

* ... WHERE'S THE OUTRAGE? Is there a bigger mess than the new 'Smartmeters" and the arrogance Pacific Gas and Electric is showing in dealing with the public? It seems that each day brings a new story of someone's utility bill doubling or even tripling and all we hear from the utility's "customer engagement"  managers is the same old drivel: it's not our fault, it's the rates. It's like they are just tolerating us and waiting for everyone to simply fade away. Everyone has a story. We have friends in Westchester whose monthly bill just topped $1,000, a huge increase. There are people in 700 square foot apartments with bills of $500. (If you didn't read Lois Henry's take on this, check it out here.) Kudos to state Sen. Dean Florez for at least taking the lead in questioning this mess, but I am surprised by the lack of organized outrage. Here's my take: if this is really due to new rates, then roll them back or change the tier structure to stop this "legal rape" of the customer. It's outrageous that in this economy, when so many people are suffering, that the rate payer is expected to absorb these new costs. 

* ... CESAR CHAVEZ: THE REAL STORY?: A colleague from Los Angeles tipped me to a new book on Cesar Chavez and the now famous (or infamous) formation of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. Titled "The Union of Their Dreams" and written by former LA Times editor Miriam Pawel, I'm told the book is both a sympathetic and scathing profile of the UFW and shines a new light on the internal power struggles that ultimately almost destroyed the movement. Apparently - according to my correspondent - some UFW supporters are so upset they plan to boycott Pawel's appearances to promote the book. Given Kern County's central role in the grape boycott and Chavez's life, Bakersfield is a natural book tour stop. Pawel is planning on at least one appearance here, at Russo's Books at 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 24. Check out the book at its website here. One reviewer said the book "recounts for the first time how a cult of personality around Cesar Chavez (influenced by the practices of the sinister Synanon organization) ultimately betrayed the courage of the workers in the fields and the trust of a veteran organizing staff." The "Union of Their Dreams" is definitely on my reading list.

 * ... STEADY AS SHE GOES: I see from the latest "Crabtree Report" that the local housing market seems to have stabilized. The report says we've entered the off-peak "winter market" when prices typically decline by three to five percent. In September, local prices declined 2.3 percent which Gary Crabtree describes as "no great surprise." I suppose this is good new and it's certainly better than what we have seen in the past. Crabtree went on to say that the "supply versus demand continues to indicate stable market conditions with unsold inventory of two months."

* ... IRVINE LEADERSHIP AWARDS: Heard from Judi McCarthy, chair of the Kern Community Foundation, that she's encouraging folks to nominate some local deserving soul for the James Irvine Foundation’s Leadership Awards.  Nominations are due October 13, so the pressure is on, but each prize is $125,000:  $100,000 for that person’s organization and $25,000 for that awardee.  From Irvine’s website, the awards “support the work of individuals who are advancing innovative and effective solutions to significant state issues. We anticipate making four to six awards in 2010, the program’s fifth year. Nominees may be working in any field — such as education, health, housing, economic development or the environment — in the public, private or nonprofit sector.”  The link is

     Judi also says  the Women's and Girls' Fund of Kern County is accepting letters of inten to apply for grants in the area of "Physical, Sexual and Domestic Safety." Founders of the fund selected this focus based on research showing domestic violence as a key issue in Kern County. The letters of intent are due November 20. For more information about the process go to or you can call 661-325-5346.


Anonymous said...

Right on! How are people on fixed incomes (like my mother) supposed to pay these bills? What was the Public Utilities Commission thinking when they approved this? They need to roll back the rates!

Anonymous said...

The Farmworkers union is a joke. Its just a way to feather the beds of the Chavez family. They're making millions off his legacy.

Anonymous said...

Maybe there is a lack of organized "outrage" because not everyone has seen a monstrous leap in PG&E bills. Anecdotal stories aren't worth much, but here's an anecdote: Bills at our house, with the new Smart Meter, have been right in line with previous usage -- a change of $50 either way in the bill. One month, $50 more than last year (we ran the AC a bit later in the evenings in July), the next $50 less.
Say that you have a business - oh! you do! -- and the cost of paper, printing, etc., rise. Who absorbs the rising costs but the customer, anyhow?

Anonymous said...

So as long and YOU didn't have a "monstrous leap" that means EVERYONE didn't? Is everyone lying? Where at PGE do YOU work anyway!

Anonymous said...

Be logical. Anecdotes, yours or anyone's, don't prove anything. What's needed and what Florez appears to be asking PG&E to do get are statistics. (Civility is a nice thing to cultivate, too.)