How OBGO brought back the OB Rag and the “California Energy Crisis”

by on June 10, 2014 · 0 comments

in California, Civil Rights, Energy, History, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Politics, San Diego

SDG&E customer burning bill - OB Rag July 1975

SDG&E customer burning bill – OB Rag July 1975

OB Group Brought Activism Back to the Streets of Ocean Beach

By Marc Snelling

The original OB Rag published from 1970-1975.   Twenty five years after the last OB Rag newspapers were circulated on the streets of Ocean Beach, OBGO launched an effort to bring the stories back into the digital realm.

The Ocean Beach Grassroots Organization (OBGO) was a group formed by local activists existing from 2000-2005.  Through the group’s website the first story republished was in August of 2000.  ‘SDG&E Wants 20% More’ was the title of the article republished from the Volume 5 Number 6 issue of the Rag of July 1975.

The article reported a doubling in SDG&E electricity rates from 1972 to 75. Also noting the rate hikes had been made possible by a Public Utilites Commission (PUC) dominated by appointees of then governor Ronald Reagan. The OB People’s Rag story covered a July 7th 1975 protest of PUC hearings in San Diego:

The people’s response has been anger. On the evening of July 7th, nearly 100 people picketed the PUC hearings in opposition to SDG&E. Inside the hearing numerous speakers from many community organizations in San Diego voiced their objection to the rate increase.  Much of the credit for the large turn out can be attributed to the work of the San Diego Energy Coalition. The Energy Coalition had previously sponsored a public meeting on June 25 (the opening day of the PUC hearings), where many San Diegans spoke out.

The San Diego Energy Coalition is an alliance of consumer groups, environmentalists, senior citizens, groups, students and academics, etc, who came together to more effect1vety fight the rate increases. The Coalition also advocates a lifeline rate for residential consumers (The life line rate would allow residential users a minimum amount of utility service at an affordable price.) A number of groups within the Coalition have also ca1led for public ownership of SDG&E. 

The 20% rate increases proposed at that time would have cost the average consumer an additional $5 per month.  Doesn’t sound like much today, but to put it in perspective, at that time the chief executive of SG&E was making $98,000 in base pay plus a slew of benefits. By comparison the CEO of Sempra Energy (owner of SDG&E) Debra Reid’s salary was $811,907 in 2011 with a total compensation package worth over $8 million a year.

The republishing of the OB Rag story coincided with another SDG&E protest and bill burning lead by OBGO on August 19th 2000 at the corner of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and Voltaire Street.  The corner which had long been a vacant lot had just started to grow as ‘Voltaire Park’ after fences were removed from the property on July 4th of that year.

Fight the Power - August 20th 2000

Fight the Power protest – August 2000

This was in the midst of what would come to be known as the ‘California Energy Crisis’ .  Between June 2000 and July 2000 the wholesale cost of power to the state increased 270% over 1999 prices.  In this same eriod the author’s monthly bill for a modest apartment on Saratoga Avenue went from $80 to over $400.  The bill in question was burned a the demonstration.

News coverage of the demonstration was carried nationally by NBC.  OB Rag editor Frank Gormlie was present at the protest, and was quoted in the Union Tribune as saying “We’re asking people not to pay their bills for a month or two”, “The power companies are profiteering.  We need to call for public ownership of the public utilities.” echoing calls from 1975.

Partial deregulation of the California electricity market in 1996 by Governor Pete Wilson (AB 1890) opened the door to increased corporate greed.  The corporation that walked through that door was the now infamous Enron.  In 2000 Enron took advantage of Wilson’s  deregulation using market manipulation to decrease supply and send rates skyrocketing.  Between April 2000 and December 2000 wholesale prices increased an astounding 800%.

In January 2001 none other than Dick Cheney was appointed to National Energy Development Task Force. Officials from Los Angeles utilities met with the task force.  They called for price controls to protect gouged consumers.  The task force refused and insisted on continuing deregulation.  On May 17th of that year future Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger met with Enron CEO Ken Lay and others at the Beverly Hills Hotel.  The meeting was called by Enron to push their “Comprehensive Solution for California”.  This ‘solution’ was to call for an end to State and Federal investigations into their role in the energy crisis and to call for increased deregulation.  Two years later Schwarzenegger would replace Gray Davis in the governor’s office.

The OB Rag article also noted:

Nuclear power plant expansion is what we are being forced to finance. Countless reports have shown that these plants are unsafe and uneconomical. Efforts by SDG&E to develop renewable, ecological and safe power sources (solar, wind, geothermal energy, etc) have been minimal.

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Diego County was commissioned in 1968.  Two years after this article was written energy giant Bechtel was publicly embarrassed after installing a 420-ton nuclear-reactor vessel backwards at the facility.  The permanent closure of the plant was announced June 7th of last year.  Sierra Club Director Kathryn Phillips took the opportunity to renew the Rag’s 1975  call for solar and” more locally generated renewable sources.”

This story was the first of what would become a series of OB Rag articles and issues republished over the coming years.  Two years later OBGO activists took it a step further resuming publication of a paper OB Rag in September of 2002.  The inaugural issue of the new OB Rag was dubbed volume 7, number 1, following 1975’s volume 6.   It included a column titled ‘Know Your History’ republishing an original OB Rag story.  The article chosen for the first issue was  ‘Unfreedom of the Press’ from the early February 1973 Rag.   The group that published the new volume of the OB Rag were activists from a generation who were all babies during the years the original Rag published.  Volume seven would go on to include three issues over the next year.

The OB People’s Rag was one of many underground newspapers to spring up during the late sixties and early seventies.  The majority had stopped publishing by the mid-seventies and by the eighties they had all stopped, including the Berkley Barb.  However, renewed interest in the underground press in the oughts (2000s) saw the return of former publications.  Among them the Los Angeles Free Press resuming a new series in 2005, following it’s original publication dates of 1964-1978.  However, with the OB Rag’s new series commencing in 2002 it was the first underground newspaper in the US to return to publication.

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