The Green Energy and Good Jobs for Los Angeles Act, or Measure B, proposed, in March of 2009, the installation of 1,500 acres of silicon panels on top of city-owned rooftops. It promised to create jobs and reduce dependence on fossil fuels by providing 400 megawatts of electricity. At the time, 400 megawatts amounted to about 85 percent of the solar energy that had been installed throughout the entire country.
There was just one catch — the law called for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to install all the panels, and the Department of Water and Power to own all of them. What seemed at first blush like a bold step toward clean energy started to look like a cynical plot by the DWP — and the union that represents almost all of its employees — to corner the market in solar power, at a price way above market value, as much as $3.6 billion. It didn't help that the measure was rushed through the City Council on a unanimous vote and included vague language like, "The Plan's minimal elements shall include, but are not limited to ... "
The IBEW assembled an impressive coalition of labor unions, environmentalists, politicians (not least of all the mayor) and businessmen and raised an enormous amount of money. It should have been a cakewalk. But a collection of budget activists and neighborhood councils fought the measure tooth and nail. They were joined, perhaps surprisingly, by the L.A. Times, whose editorial pages and investigative reporting repeatedly hammered the proposal.
Despite being outspent $1.5 million to $65,000 (and nearly all of that was a last-minute independent expenditure from a carpenters union; according to campaign disclosure forms, the No on B campaign spent only $14 in cash!), Measure B lost by less than 3,000 votes.