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Local socialists call for public takeover of PG&E in Santa Rosa rally

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A rally calling for public ownership and worker control of PG&E because of the devastation of recent fires caused by the utilities’ equipment drew 40 to 50 people to Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa on Saturday afternoon.

The event was organized by the North Bay chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America as part of the group’s “Let’s Own PG&E” campaign, which makes the case for a PG&E ownership structure that benefits ordinary people, not shareholders and executives.

“Public ownership of this utility is a definite necessity,” said J.D. Opperman of Guerneville, whose subsequent description of monopolies as capitalist relics drew cheers from onlookers.

Rallygoers, many holding signs espousing the benefits of socialism or criticizing PG&E, later chanted, “corporate liars, faulty wires, set our towns and homes on fire” while assembled along Third Street.

The rally follows Sonoma Clean Power’s vote Thursday to explore the impact of a public takeover of PG&E’s electrical grid and after numerous California and local officials, including some North Bay mayors, backed a proposal to create a cooperative to run the bankrupt utility’s systems.

PG&E did not return a message left for media representatives Saturday night. A utility spokeswoman previously provided The Press Democrat with an emailed statement that objected to a public takeover as a way to improve safety of PG&E’s operations.

The Kincade fire, which recently burned more than 70,000 acres in Northern Sonoma County and destroyed or damaged more than 400 structures, has not been definitively determined to be caused by PG&E’s equipment, according to Cal Fire, which is investigating the cause of the blaze. However, PG&E told state regulators that a piece of its transmission line equipment near the fire’s origin broke shortly before the fire first was reported.

Over the past few years, the DSA has experienced a rise in prominence along with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an avowed democratic socialist and past and current presidential candidate. One speaker alluded to Sanders’ “Green New Deal” platform, which includes a plan to sell renewable energy with a preference for publicly owned utilities to “end greed in our energy system.”

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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