Pasadena City Councilman Terry Tornek is used to casting multi-million-dollar votes, but when the council in July decided to spend tens of millions on renewable energy, he thought city leaders lacked the expertise they needed. He wants the city to form a commission of Pasadena residents who have experience in the field.
“I'm continually struck by the complexities and consequences of the decisions we have to make,” Tornek said. “We're being asked to make multi-million-dollar decisions.”
But the request comes as Pasadena is looking to reduce or streamline its more than 25 existing commissions, committees and boards in order to cut costs. A 2009 analysis estimated that more than 21 full-time staff positions are associated with commission support, though the number of commissions has been reduced since then.
The contracts the city approved in July call for biomethane producers Sequent Energy Management of Tennessee and Ohio-based WM Renewable Energy LLC to deliver clean energy to the city for 10 years, at a cost of between $47.2 million to $97.3 million. The reason for the wide range in costs involves uncertainty over future price fluctuations.
But Pasadena City Manager Michael Beck and others believe the already city has the expertise it needs on energy policy. He said contracts such as the biomethane deals are scrutinized by staff, as well as a coalition of other Southern California public utilities, for months before they reach the council.
Beck wouldn't oppose a new advisory board, he said, but he said he believes the current system works.
“The key is you wouldn't want both,” Beck said. “You wouldn't have utility issues taken up by the [Municipal Services Commission] and a utility board.”
In February staff recommended the creation of a utility advisory board with limited powers, should the council decide to go ahead and seek wider input.
Councilman Victor Gordo said he is hesitant to add another layer of bureaucracy unless there is a compelling sense that the public interest is not being served, but agreed to consider adding the advisory board.
The council took no official vote on the board, but agreed to continue to explore the idea while keeping the power to raise or lower utility rates in the hands of the City Council.