A tussle for control over the future of Sonoma Clean Power dominated the agency's first public meeting Tuesday, with county officials rejecting for now a request by smaller cities for more say over how the agency is governed.
The decision was a clear sign of how strongly the county is courting Santa Rosa, the largest urban power market. Under current weighted voting rules, Santa Rosa would retain the ability to join the unincorporated county — the other dominant power market — in pushing through governance changes over the objection of all other cities.
Supervisors Shirlee Zane and Susan Gorin, whose districts include most of Santa Rosa, lobbied to postpone any decision on altering that control, saying cities could take it up once they joined.
Zane minced no words about the motivation for her stance, calling Santa Rosa the "biggest player" in the power deal.
"Do I care about whether it joins? Absolutely, I do," Zane said in an interview after the board vote.
Representatives of smaller cities that wanted that provision changed voiced disappointment that it wasn't and suggested it would affect upcoming decisions on whether their jurisdictions would join the power venture. Commitments from Cotati, Sebastopol and Sonoma are on the line this week and next month.
"This was a critical concern not just for us but for any cities smaller than Santa Rosa," Cotati Mayor Mark Landman said. "Since the joint powers authority has tabled this issue, I'm not sure where this leads us."
Erin Carlstrom, the Santa Rosa vice mayor, said the decision avoided what she called a "fundamental change" that would have "diluted the voice of Santa Rosans" and complicated the City Council's July 9 decision on whether to join the venture.
Carlstrom said she had talked to Zane about the amendment Monday night. She said it was unfair to make the change before Santa Rosa and other cities had a chance to debate it.
"I think we're going to disagree on this," Carlstrom said, speaking for herself and not the full council. At least two of Santa Rosa's seven council members, Gary Wysocky and Julie Combs, have voiced support for the change.
The issue overshadowed other business and governance decisions Tuesday geared toward Sonoma Clean Power's Jan. 1 launch. The moves included approval of $2.5 million in startup financing for the venture and adoption of several uncontested changes to the agency's joint-powers agreement relating to curbs on financial risk and composition of a ratepayer advisory committee.
The agency seeks to displace Pacific Gas and Electric Co. as the area's main electricity supplier by offering competitive rates and an immediately greener energy portfolio.
The program has been championed for years by advocates seeking to boost locally generated renewable power. It has been a county-driven initiative since 2011.
Its implementation this year, however, has been dogged by criticism from government watchdogs, cities' concerns about a fast-paced rollout and allegations of miscommunication among elected county and city leaders and their staffs.
Of the eight cities being courted by the county, three — Cloverdale, Rohnert Park and Petaluma — have opted out of the venture for now.
Board of Supervisors Chairman David Rabbitt, who has been alone among his board colleagues in wanting the process slowed, blamed the county Tuesday for many of the problems.