Utility Prophets

Money isn't everything, but opponents of Proposition 9, the statewide ballot measure that would require a 20 percent rollback in electricity rates, are hoping it's enough to crush the initiative. Among those furiously funneling cash to "Californians Against Higher Taxes," (which morphed into the "No on 9 Committee") are Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric. The big three are bankrolling the anti-Prop. 9 efforts to the tune of $29.9 million - a stark contrast to the scant $1.2 million that supporters of the initiative are working with. The not-so-startling money trail was revealed earlier this month in state disclosure reports. And how did the anti-Prop. 9 forces put their money to work? Campaign contributions. The big three have given $500,000 to the California Republican and Democratic parties. Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Lungren received $51,000 while Democratic contender Gray Davis took in $64,500. Both parties and candidates oppose Prop. 9, as do dozens of unions, environmental groups, and police and teacher associations. Opponents of the measure proclaim a gloom-and-doom scenario, saying passage would result in a lowered state-bond credit rating and cuts in education and law enforcement. Of the 162 groups and organizations opposed to Prop. 9, nearly half received money from SoCal Edison in 1997. Other beneficiaries of utility largess include the Republican candidate for state treasurer, Curt Pringle, who scooped in $31,500, while his Democratic opponent, Phil Angelides, netted $8,500. Bill Lockyer, Democratic attorney-general aspirant, received $21,000 while rival David Sterling garnered $11,500. More than $100,000 was funneled to the consulting firm of Tom Hayes, the former state treasurer who appears in No-on-9 television ads. All oppose Prop. 9, which promises to pummel the $28 billion bailout of the energy industry for its failed investment in nuclear reactors. Despite the blizzard of bucks and advertisements painting a doomsday scenario if the proposition passes, Prop. 9 still enjoys a 30-point lead, according to a San Francisco Examiner poll.-Michael Collins


Please read closely for a pattern:Item. L.A. Unified safety director Hamid Arabzadeh, a private-industry expert newly brought in from the outside, recommends a broad range of reforms to enhance school safety, reforms that rock a number of boats, including those of some district officials and longtime subordinates in his own department. Months later, he is canned.

Item. LAUSD chief auditor Wajeeh Ersheid, a private-industry expert newly brought in from the outside, advises the district to make sweeping changes in auditing procedures, because, he asserts, millions of dollars are being wasted. His view ruffles many feathers, including those of some district officials and longtime subordinates in his own department. Months later, he is canned.

Both firings occurred over the summer. This month, the school system tacitly acknowledged that the professional judgment of both men was correct. The district adopted key recommendations of Arabzadeh after a series of newspaper articles and embarrassing hearings. And last week, an independent consultant made findings very similar to those presented by Ersheid.

L.A. Unified officials still insist that both men had to go. The district, they said, has ample evidence documenting that both Ersheid and Arabzadeh, despite their technical expertise, were poor managers. But in a behemoth school system where middle-management positions are perhaps the closest vocational equivalent to eternal life, it's striking that the ax fell on two outsiders who wanted to make quick and significant changes, initiatives that are now widely acknowledged as the right moves.-Howard Blume


Ever since that "1,000 points of light" speech way back in 1988, we've known that the dark days of big government were numbered and that the proud spirit of volunteerism would have to fill whatever minor gaps were left over. But we thought that just meant bringing canned goods to church on Sunday. Then, last week, when OffBeat was waiting for the elevator in the lobby of the downtown Criminal Courts Building, we noticed some fliers pinned to the wall advertising openings for "temporary judges." A quick call revealed that only attorneys qualified. Apparently, since 1989, volunteers have been helping ease the crowded court system by taking a three-and-a-half-hour training course and immediately presiding over small-claims cases, landlord-tenant disputes, traffic trials and some civil cases.

Our noses perked up a little more when a mailing arrived on our desk announcing that more opportunities awaited us at the County Clerk's Office, which was "seeking volunteers to perform marriage ceremonies." So far 16 ordinary folks, after "minimal training," "have been sworn in as deputy commissioners of civil marriage," according to the mailer. And this time no prior experience whatsoever is required for volunteers to become "a part of a major event in the lives of loving couples while saving taxpayers' money."

Maybe these aren't the points of light we imagined, but, hell, we're not shirking. Here's to the all-volunteer judiciary! And why not help keep those tax dollars in the bank where they belong and pitch in creatively in your own community? The MTA can't do it, so dig that pickax out of the garage and get cracking on the Eastside subway extension. And remember, crime may be dropping, but those prisons aren't getting any emptier, so go on over and guard them yourself this weekend!-Ben Ehrenreich

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