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In a surprise, support for L.A. solar panel measure fades

March 4, 2009 |  8:55 am

The Los Angeles election delivered a few surprises, and the biggest was the weak showing for Measure B, the plan for adding 400 megawatts of solar panels to rooftops and parking lots.

The City Clerk's office reported that 50.3% of voters were rejecting Measure B.

The outcome could still change because thousands of late absentee and provisional ballots must be counted over the next few days. But the unofficial results quickly created a series of awkward moments for the civic leaders who had prematurely declared victory throughout the course of election night.

First up was H. David Nahai, the head of the Department of Water and Power, who sent an e-mail statement to reporters at 11:12 p.m. hailing Measure B's passage and congratulating voters for making "a bold choice for the environment." In his statement, Nahai said the DWP "has already laid the groundwork for ramping up the workforce required to begin implementing Measure B."

Half an hour later, the solar energy campaign sent its own e-mail, titled "Los Angeles Labor, Environmental, Community Leaders Celebrate Passage of Measure B." That statement said the DWP would have a Measure B implementation plan ready within 90 days.

And shortly after midnight, the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor sent her own statement touting her group's involvement in the Measure B campaign. "Tonight, voters clearly agreed that Measure B is more of what we need to get our environment and economy back on track," said Maria Elena Durazo, the federation's secretary treasurer.

At the time, Measure B looked like it was still a shoo-in.

The results are a turnaround from a few days ago, when the Measure B campaign boasted that its ballot measure was polling in the high 60s. Because the measure only needed a simple majority, passage seemed inevitable.

Yet the solar plan also faced a buzz-saw of criticism from the dozens of neighborhood councils that had taken a position against it. Opponents warned that the plan would dramatically increase electrical rates and prevent construction-trade workers from getting work installing the panels.

Supporters sharply disagreed, saying that Measure B would create new jobs, improve the environment and provide new training opportunities for low-income adults attempting to enter the workforce. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents DWP workers, put its money and considerable clout behind the measure, saying the city had waited too long for a coherent solar plan.

Even if Measure B goes down to defeat, nothing would prevent the city's political leaders from dusting themselves off, reexamining the solar plan and sending it to the commission that oversees the DWP for a vote. Backers of Measure B bypassed that panel the first time around, opting to send it to the ballot instead.

The commission's members are appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who appeared in TV commercials for Measure B. If they act, they could easily breathe new life into the flagging solar plan.

-- David Zahniser