by George Snyder source: Sonoma West Times Feb 18, 2011
A united city council had no problem supporting AB 37 — which would allow electric customers to opt out of having a SmartMeter installed in their homes — but divided sharply in turning thumbs down on a local moratorium on the controversial devices.
AB 37, introduced by Marin County State Assemblyman Jared Huffman, would allow Pacific Gas & Electric customers to “opt out” on SmartMeter installation in favor of using alternative devices to measure their electric energy use and also calls for a study from the California Council on Science and Technology to determine whether Federal Communications Commission standards for the wireless meters are sufficiently protective when taking account current exposure levels to radio frequency and electromagnetic fields.
Councilmember Kathleen Shaffer, in introducing the agenda item calling for a letter of support for the Huffman bill from the city, said, “Installation of the SmartMeter has become a controversial issue. There have been many questions raised about the accuracy and health effects of the SmartMeter, and the lack of response from the CPUC (California Public Utilities) and PG&E has exacerbated the situation.”
She said the bill has been introduced and will be assigned to committee after Feb. 18, adding that such a bill would relieve local jurisdictions of passing anti-SmartMeter legislation that in fact could not be enforced because of jurisdictional problems.
The vote, which was unanimous, followed several speakers who thought the Huffman bill to be a good idea.
That unanimity vanished a short time later when councilmember Michael Kyes introduced a subsequent agenda item calling for the city council to reconsider its decision last October to drop plans to impose a moratorium on the PG&E meters, a step that has been taken by a number of cities and counties including Marin, Santa Cruz and Mendocino counties as well as Watsonville, Capitola and Rio Dell in Humboldt County.
Last October the council voted 4 to 1 to not impose a moratorium, largely because the majority believed passing a moratorium would only be symbolic because the city had no legal jurisdiction over such matters and they said the city would be open to possible litigation as the result of such a vote.
Mayor Sarah Gurney was the only person to vote in favor of a moratorium at that time.
This time around Gurney, who once again voted in favor of a moratorium, even suggested a moratorium that would let people who wanted a SmartMeter to have one if they so desired in order to have one passed.
“We have been involved in this for a year and we have more and more information on the concerns about SmartMeters,” she said. “I’m ready to take an action even if it is unenforceable. If we do nothing, we are not protecting our citizens.”
Kyes, the only other vote in favor of a moratorium, said, “I do support a moratorium. We do other things, like passing the medical marijuana ordinance which is clearly against federal law.”
“Even if it is symbolic and not enforceable PG&E doesn’t want bad publicity. It’s to do, the risk factor is small, they will go somewhere else to install the meters,” he said.
Councilmembers Shaffer, Patrick Slayter and Mayor Guy Wilson, meanwhile, while heartily supporting the Huffman bill, nonetheless voted against the moratorium.
Slayter said he couldn’t vote for a moratorium, even if there was an opt out clause, that seemed to contradict “freedom of choice.”
“If you don’t want one, then you shouldn’t have one,” he said, adding, “If you do want one then you should also have one.”
Wilson maintained the situation was the same as it was back in October.
“We do not have the jurisdiction,” Wilson, an attorney, said. “It’s not the most popular sentiment here tonight but the law hasn’t changed since last October.”
He said passing such a local law without having the legal authority “may or may not have consequences for the city but we must make a distinction between a letter of support” and local action.
“I feel it’s not appropriate for Sebastopol to pass a law it can not enforce or have the jurisdiction,” he said.
Shaffer, for her part, said she was “very supportive” of the Huffman bill “because that’s the legal way to do it. It’s very important I support the law. The city attorney says the moratorium is not enforceable. I hope that is going to change.”
The council vote followed a lengthy chorus of anti-SmartMeter speakers, all of whom supported a moratorium and cited concerns such as health and invasion of privacy as a reason to forbid the wireless meters.
In other news, the council honored Sebastopol Firefighter Tim Hale as Firefighter of the Year, Reserve Sebastopol Police Officer James Richter for 35 years of service and voted to support Sebastopol’s own Earth Day Celebration on April 30 with a $600 donation from the city’s coffers.
In addition, the council proclaimed April 22 as Earth Day everywhere else in addition to the city’s observance of the event