The standoff between Santa Rosa and the officials overseeing Sonoma County's planned public power agency is growing increasingly tense, with each side hardening its stance about conditions for joining the agency and ramping up the political rhetoric as the key vote approaches Tuesday.
Santa Rosa City Council members defended their decision last week to have city staff prepare a long list of conditions that need to be met before they would join the agency, including the number of seats it would receive on the board and a written commitment to not buy nuclear power.
"If the county wants us to be a partner, then they should treat us like a partner," said Councilman Gary Wysocky, who applauded his colleagues' thorough review of the program and demand for changes before joining. "They either want to work with Santa Rosa, or they want to dictate."
Sonoma Clean Power officials, meanwhile, reiterated their stance that the July 9 deadline for joining would not be extended, and stressed that the city's vote must be unconditional for the city to be part of the program's first year.
"If they want to make changes, they need to join us," Supervisor Shirlee Zane said. "I'm disappointed, because I have teed this up for them."
<CW-13>Zane, whose district includes most of Santa Rosa, ratcheted up the political pressure on council members, predicting that if they prevent their constituents from being able to sign up for the program "there will be a lot of people angry at them."</CW>
She said the council would be "playing Big Brother" if it blocked residents and businesses from choosing to participate, and suggested that "overly concerned staff members" were the ones "calling all of the shots" in the city.
The rhetoric is likely to raise the stakes in the high-profile political showdown between the county and Santa Rosa and shine an even brighter spotlight on the City Council's decision, expected to take place at the end of what looks to be a long public meeting tomorrow.
As Sonoma County's largest city and biggest urban power market, Santa Rosa is considered a key to the county-driven program's long-term success. But Sonoma Clean Power officials insist the venture is viable in the short-term without the city's 97,000 power meters, which account for 34 percent of the power sold by PG&E in the county.
Santa Rosa officials have been pushing back against the county's timeline for months, warning in the spring that the original June 30 deadline was too aggressive and using their leverage to broker an extension until July 9.
But if the county hoped that postponing the deadline would increase council members' comfort level with the program, the approach appears to have backfired. It gave the city time to hire two consultants who raised a number of legal and technical questions about the program, concerns that several council members appear to have taken to heart.
Following a study session last week, City Manager Kathy Millison drafted a staff report outlining nine changes council members want in the agency's joint powers agreement and draft implementation plan.
Which, if any, of the conditions the City Council ultimately requires as part of its vote remains to be seen Tuesday.
Privately, some observers of the machinations say council members appear to fall into one of three positions. One or two appear ready to join now and are willing to try to resolve the city's issues once the agency's board is seated.