East Bay Clean Power Alliance raised concerns over East Bay Community Energy’s, or EBCE’s, proposal to allocate funds to the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland for the purpose of creating an asthma treatment program.
According to Jessica Guadalupe Tovar, an energy democracy organizer with the Local Clean Energy Alliance, the proposal was part of a larger pattern of EBCE being ambiguous with their decision-making process. Tovar added that the proposal was inconsistent with EBCE’s Local Development Business Plan, or LDBP.
“What has been a constant problem is that they come up with proposals without the community’s input and without transparency,” Tovar said. “If it isn’t anything that represents building energy resilience for the East Bay community then it’s not part of the scope of their mission as a public agency.”
Annie Henderson, vice president of marketing and account services for EBCE, said in an email that no objections to the proposal were directed to staff and that input was given by members of the public, several of whom supported the proposal. She added that their Community Advisory Committee, or CAC, is composed of members of the public while the EBCE Board of Directors is composed of members elected by the community.
Robert Gould, president of the San Francisco-Bay Area Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said a better process would be to release proposals in advance so the public can have a “thoughtful review” during periods of comment.
Tovar noted that the public comment period is extremely limited.
The proposal to allocate $15 million from EBCE’s 2022-23 budget for the hospital was first suggested at the CAC meeting on May 16. It was ultimately removed from the budget in an amendment made at a EBCE Board of Directors meeting June 15.
Both the CAC and the board reviewed the proposal across four meetings, after which the staff were directed to return with new proposals for how the funds could be used, according to Henderson. These proposals will be presented Sept. 30.
“EBCE is a public agency with a transparent system of decision making,” Henderson said in an email. “Our Board of Directors and advisory committee meetings are all open to the public, abide by Brown Act rules, and allow for public comment throughout.”
Tovar asserted, however, that the proposal was rejected due to community pressure. She added that a sign-on letter, opposing the measure and containing 15 nongovernmental organizations as signatories, was issued by East Bay Clean Power Alliance.
According to Nyah Tisdell, an energy democracy organizer with the Local Clean Energy Alliance, around 800 letters opposing the proposal were also sent by members of the public to EBCE board members. She noted that they do not oppose the hospital itself, only the proposal.
“What East Bay Community Energy is doing is they’re changing because they know that they’ve come up with a proposal that was inappropriate,” Tisdell alleged. “Them scrapping (the proposal) says a lot about the community’s power and our voices throughout this process.”
Tovar said the funds would be better used to create community-driven microgrids, which have been advocated for by several non-profit organizations since the EBCE budget meeting late spring 2021. She noted that $15 million could fund 60 such microgrids in places like schools and community centers.
According to Tovar, the grids would reinforce community energy resilience in the face of expected PG&E power cuts. She noted that people using power for life support or to refrigerate medication would be especially affected by such cuts.
“The projects that EBCE has pursued in terms of building microgrids with battery and solar energy has been for municipal facilities that are not trusted by the community like police stations,” Tovar said.
Tisdell added that the funds could also be used to electrify 395 low-income homes or to purchase 3000 back-up batteries for medical baseline customers. Tovar said that hearing EBCE propose gifting a budget surplus to the hospital when such long-standing demands exist was like a “slap in the face.”
Gould said that responsible use of EBCE funds is made more necessary because of the cutbacks made to the Build Back Better Act by the federal government.
“(EBCE) could be working with the community to really get those programs in the LDBP fully funded so that they’re successful in delivering the energy resilience benefits that we need to see in our communities,” Tovar said.