Former San Jose mayor turns pro labor in PG&E battle
In this file photo, a PG&E worker walks in front of a truck in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

A former San Jose mayor is switching up his political allies to take on a common adversary, the west coast’s largest power utility.

Former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is leading a new labor-backed coalition to oppose Pacific Gas and Electric’s proposed rate hike of 18%, or nearly $39 per month. This hike is to compensate for a $5 to $9 billion wildfire prevention effort to bury power lines, a move Liccardo and the coalition say is too expensive, according to Politico. Liccardo’s new coalition — Fire Accountability Infrastructure for Ratepayers, or FAIR California — aims to make PG&E accountable to ratepayers and the public, according to NBC Bay Area.

But some local labor leaders are not sold on Liccardo’s intentions, and Jean Cohen, executive director of the South Bay Labor Council, told San José Spotlight Liccardo’s long history of being “anti-union” speaks for itself.

“(Liccardo) should not be in partnership with any organization who legitimately represents issues concerning working families,” Cohen said.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, PG&E’s largest union, has also encouraged labor organizations to be suspicious of Liccardo’s coalition based on his track record, according to Politico.

FAIR California members include the Northern California District Council of Laborers, the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 3, AARP, the Housing Action Coalition, the Latino Business Foundation in Silicon Valley and various chambers of commerce, Politico reports.

Liccardo did not respond to requests for comment.

In a public showdown, Liccardo pitted himself against labor unions when in 2012, as a councilmember, he backed former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed’s pension reform, known as Measure B. Voters overwhelmingly passed it amid city service cuts and staff reductions, according to KQED. In 2013, a superior court judge ruled that decreased pension benefits were a violation of current employees vested rights and Measure B could not be implemented. Some wage and health benefit reductions remained, according to Ballotpedia.

While mayor of San Jose, Liccardo formed Common Good Silicon Valley in 2021, a PAC to support business-friendly candidates. He raised $420,000 in three months before stepping away from the PAC.

Liccardo has had a longstanding feud with PG&E—during his time as mayor he sought several different alternatives to PG&E, including a plan to create a cooperative, customer-owned utility to replace PG&E in Northern California. This plan ultimately fell short, but he tried again by proposing a city-owned public utility. In October the San Jose City Council approved exploring the possibility.

A spokesperson for PG&E told San José Spotlight the utility is aggressively focused on delivering power safely and at a lower cost.

“Undergrounding power lines in the highest fire-risk areas will make our hometowns and California safer, improve electric reliability and save customers billions in … maintenance costs,” the spokesperson said. “We are working to keep customer cost increases at or below assumed inflation, between (2%) and 4% a year.”

Contact Ben at [email protected] or follow @B1rwin on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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