Memoirs of a Movement – The Other Plants: Pointing Out The Faults

Memoirs of a Movement, Mark Evanoff



“PG&E has a public-be-damned attitude and only
pays lip service to conservation. Nuclear
power plants are the new toy that every utility
wants — they’re not competitive, inefficient
and totally unnecessary.”

-William Bennett,
President California Public Utilities Commission

At one point, Pacific Gas and Electric Company planned to build nuclear power plants throughout California. Local residents organized to oppose the construction projects at each of the proposed locations. The tactics and cast of characters varied at each location.


After abandoning Bodega Bay, PG&E moved the nuclear power plant site to Point Arena, 90 miles north of San Francisco. At the May 4, 1966 press conference announcing the decision, PG6cE described the site as “some miles from the San Andreas fault.”

Local officials supported the plant, and the utility did not expect opposition from the conservation groups. PG&E representatives noted that “all the coast is scenic, we think, and the plant would be designed to blend in as well as it could.” 1

Point Arena Mayor, Fred Price, stated that the plant would be the best thing that could happen in this part of the country. County supervisor Fred Mayfield predicted that the plant would raise the county’s tax base by twenty percent. 2

Public Utilities Commissioner William Bennett opposed the plant. “The entire region north of the Golden Gate must be saved for recreational users,” he told reporters after PG&E announced their plan. “PG&E has a public-be-damned attitude and only pays lip service to conservation.” Bennett described nuclear power plants as “the new toy that every utility wants — they’re not competitive, inefficient and totally unnecessary.” 3

On November 7, 1968, Norman Livermore, representing the California Resources Agency, signed an agreement with PG&E senior vice president John F. Bonner not to oppose the plant. In return, PG&E agreed to “provide reasonable mitigation,” for any adverse effects on the environment or recreational activities. However, the mitigation clause was based on the condition that “such mitigation will not interfere with the construction and operation of the plant unless otherwise agreed.”4

PG&E hired consultants to study the onshore and off-shore geology. On August 20, 1971, after receiving positive geology reports, the utility filed a construction permit with the Atomic Energy Commission. Although PG&E only had experience operating a 63 megawatt nuclear reactor, the utility decided to build two 1130 megawatt reactors.

After PG&E filed for a construction permit, the Sierra Club announced plans to t fight the project. Sierra Club executive director Mike McClosky condemned the agreement between the state Resources Agency and PG&E calling it “an indication of t the sublime posture the state takes toward utilities. We’ve had a state policy for some time ignoring environmental questions.”5

California Assembly member Edwin Z’berg, chairman of the Natural Resources t and Conservation Committee, said the agreement was a “total aberration of the interest p t of the public.” 6

Before any active opposition was underway, PG&E started running into problems. The United States Geological Survey didn’t accept PG&E’s geology reports contained in its Preliminary Safety Analysis. The utility’s consultants, Earth Science Associates, concluded no faults existed in the area, but PG&E did not include their field data in the report submitted to the AEC. USGS geologist Eli Silver wanted to look at the data before evaluating the areas seismic stability. Silver remembered, “I asked for the data, and they said I didn’t need it. I said I had to see it or I couldn’t make an evaluation.”

PG6cE reluctantly submitted the Earth Science Associates’ off—shore data, and it showed several escarpments. “Anyone casually looking at it could see it was a fault,” Silver continued. “The escarpment paralleled the San Andreas fault.”

Carl M. Wentworth evaluated the onshore geology and also noticed problems with PG&E’s geology report. The step lines along the coastal terrace paralleled the San Andreas fault. One of the terrace lines passed directly through the plant site. The stepline patterns suggested the presence of earthquake faults.

After reading the USGS critique, the Atomic Energy Commission requested more information from PG&E to prove its contention earthquake faults presented no problem at the site. Rather than provide this information, PG&E withdrew the application for a construction permit.

Dick Davin, public information officer for PG&E, said the company withdrew T because of the passage of the California Coastal Act in November of 1972. The Act created a State Coastal Commission responsible for designating sections of the coast I not appropriate for power plant development. PG&E felt the Act put the construction of power plants along the coast “in limbo” until the new Commission decided where power plants should be built. The Act actually provided PG&E with a convenient excuse not to answer the potentially embarrassing seismic questions about the area.


Pacific Gas and Electric Company predicted five percent a year electricity growth in the Santa Clara Valley. To supply the anticipated demand, PG&E planned to build six 1050 megawatt reactors near the city of Santa Cruz, located seventy miles south of San Francisco. County officials endorsed the project and expected to collect $30 million a year in taxes from the power plants.

The early planning was done behind closed doors. Former county planning director Burt Muhly remembered, “There were rumors circulating for a while that PG&E had some intentions for the area. I as planning director for the county was never informed about PG6E‘s plans. The first I heard about it was when I received a press release from Supervisor John McCallich announcing the plant. Participants in the negotiations included members of the County Board of Supervisors, civic leaders, and members of the Chamber of Commerce.

On April 9, 1970, PG&E announced purchase of an option to buy 6,800 acres as a building site for the nuclear power plants. “PG&E was either brave or foolish to come into the county to try to build a power plant,” Muhly continued. “Santa Cruz was the focus of the environmental movement.”

Local residents organized immediately after PG&E announced the purchase. Eli Gilardi, active in the environmental movement, called her friends for help in stopping the plant. PG&E inadvertently helped the organizing effort by publishing a drawing showing the route of the power lines from the proposed plant. With the help of Elouise Smith, the group traced the power line route through the county and notified each of the property owners within 200 yards of the power line. Landowners included regents and administrators for the University of California. University of California, Santa Cruz Chancellor Dean McHenry vowed to fight the plant in every legal way possible. McHenry’s friends included high—level PG6cE executives, who he lobbied privately not to build the plant.

“I put it on a personal basis,” he remembered. “Those of us living in Bonny Dune did not want power lines to mar the scenery. We were against any power plant development along the coast.”

Gilardi and Smith continued their own organizing efforts and persuaded the County Board of Supervisors to sponsor a series of public forums focused on nuclear power. On one occasion, Colonel Alexander Grendon, a Bodega Bay proponent, debated Dr. John Gofman, former director of the biomedical division of the Lawrence Livermore Lab. Gofman had recently coauthored a study which concluded it everyone in the x United States were exposed to 170 millirem of radiation, an amount considered safe and legal by the Atomic Energy Commission, 32,000 people would die from cancer.

At the debate, Gofman said if an accident occurred, land within a 100 mile radius surrounding the plant would be rendered uninhabitable. Colonel Grendon responded,“if the use of nuclear power plants was blocked, then the natural progression should be expanded to shutting off fossil fuels and metals, and other developments, each dangerous to some extent.”7

Some Davenport residents organized CLEAN, Citizens Learning Everything About Nuclear Energy, to solicit support for the plant among political and business leaders. Frances Gregory, a Davenport resident, favored the plant because it would increase the tax base in the community. Funds in Davenport were so tight that the volunteer fire department raised money to buy a new fire truck with bake sales and dances.8

PG&E conducted its own educational campaign and purchased an hour of prime time television to refute criticisms made about the plant. The utility tried to assure l Santa Cruz that the plant presented no health problems, and engineer Barton Shakelford l predicted if the plant wasn’t built, power shortages were inevitable.

Elouise Smith frequently debated PG&E representatives at public meetings. “It was easy to refute what the people at PG&E were saying,” Elousie Smith remembered. “You had to feel sorry for them. They had just briefed themselves before going on stage and they didn’t know what they were talking about.”

An off-shore earthquake fault presented another problem for PG6cE. Shakelford claimed reactors could be built to withstand an earthquake from either the San Andreas or San Gregorio earthquake fault. However, PG&E had no data to support this conclusion. The United States Geological Survey had not finished mapping the San Gregorio fault zone, nor determined its potential earthquake magnitude.

Geologists suspected the fault zone to be several miles wide. Geology professors from the University of California at Santa Cruz pointed out, “Whether the San Gregorio fault zone lies offshore from the Davenport site, or whether the site lies within the active fault zone has not been determined.” 9

Shakelford assured the public that PG&E conducted its geology investigation “on the assumption that the San Gregorio fault might be active. We have to proceed on that assumption because there is hardly anywhere in California that isn’t near a fault line that neither has been active in the past or is likely to become so in the future.”10

Shakelford maintained that PG&E could build earthquake safe plants.

Geologists remained skeptical about the claim. The February 1971 San Fernando Valley earthquake near Los Angeles demolished earthquake safe structures, and produced unexpectedly high ground accelerations. The fault systems near Davenport were similar to those found in the San Fernando Valley. Professors Coe and Garrison pointed out that the San Fernando Valley earthquake produced ground displacement within a several mile wide belt paralleling the fault. An earthquake near Davenport could definitely cause ground displacement at the plant site.11 PG&E consultant Richard Jahns, president of Earth Science Associates, remained confident the area was stable enough for building a nuclear power plant.12

The public didn’t accept PG&E’s arguments and opposition continued to grow. People didn’t want a nuclear power plant along the coast. Home owners didn’t want power lines crossing their property. PG6cE never announced cancellation plans, but by 1972 no longer promoted building a nuclear power plant complex at Davenport. The option to buy the land expired, however PG&E retained the right of first refusal in the event of another sale. Planning Director Burt Muhly assumed PG&E wanted to wait out the opposition.

Two years later the utility purchased land to install a 230 kilovolt power line, allegedly to bring electricity into the county. Muhly pointed out that Santa Cruz County didn’t need the volume of electricity to be supplied by the power line, and that PG&E actually intended to use it to carry electricity generated at the Davenport complex. A local man forced to sell his land claimed that PG&E threatened litigation if he did not sell and was told that the plans to build at Davenport were “far from dead.” PG&E denied plans to build the power plants, but did admit to wanting “to keep their options open.”13

No one heard about Davenport for the next few years. Then in 1977, the California Coastal Commission held a public hearing in Santa Cruz to determine the viability of building a power plant near Davenport. Scott Kennedy, working with People for a Nuclear Free Future and the Resource Center for Non—violence, helped organize the community to show the Coastal Commission, Davenport was not an appropriate place to build a nuclear power plant. Volunteers distributed ten thousand “door hangers” informing local residents that they lived in an evacuation zone and invited them to attend the Coastal Commission meeting.

The auditorium filled to capacity as local residents testified. Plant opponents coordinated their five minute presentations so all aspects of nuclear power could be covered. One person presented a photograph of the Davenport coast with a nuclear power plant super-imposed over it, to graphically illustrate the loss of the scenic coastline. Only two people spoke in favor of the plant, and the Commission decided Davenport was not an appropriate power plant site. Natural scenic resource preservation took precedent over increased electricity capacity.

Elouise Smith did not participate in the Coastal Commission hearings. “It was time for somebody else to come in and carry the ball. I did what needed to be done at a particular time and place.” When asked what she thought stopped the plant, Smith replied, “We didn’t stop it alone. We slowed the development for the people more powerful than us to stop it. If a few of us didn’t get out there and behave as we did, we would have another Diablo.”


In the early 1970‘s the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) searched central California for a site to build what they hoped would be the world’s largest nuclear power plant complex. Participants in the project included Pacific Gas and Electric Company and the State of California. None of the county governments contacted by the LADWP wanted to issue a building permit for a project to benefit Los Angeles.

However officials in Kern County, just over the mountains to the north of Los Angeles, appeared somewhat more sympathetic. And in 1973, PG&E and the LADWP announced plans to build four 1250 megawatt plants. Joy Lane, working with Project Land Use, alerted other environmental organizations and farming groups about the proposed power plants. She wanted to force the utilities to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) before it purchased the land or leased the water needed to cool the plant. “Once the utility filed the EIR we’d have some information on environmental damage and something to rally around,” Lane remembered.

“An EIR,” Lane explained, “describes the negative environmental impact of construction projects. At public hearings the public can challenge the adequacy of such studies. And the county can determine if the environmental damage is worth the project. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power attempted to dodge the ‘ requirement. California Attorney General Evele Younger eventually ordered an EIR be filed.” Lane organized Citizen’s for Better Alternatives, to publicize the environmental issues and to persuade people to attend the public meetings on the plant.

Meanwhile the LADWP enlisted the formal support of the Kern County Water Agency and began drafting co-management guidelines. If the water agencies signed the agreement, construction could begin without approval by the County Board of Supervisors. State law allowed water agencies to build power plants without local approval. Kern County developers met in secret with the water agency and urged the directors to sign the agreement. A plant opponent managed to procure a copy of the meeting minutes and contacted his friends to devise a method to stop PG&E. The group knew more constituencies had to be involved, and brainstormed the names of people they needed to recruit and participate in the campaign.

Dave Bryant, a strong-willed rancher familiar with county politics, and a founding member of the County Water Agency, was one of the persons recruited for the campaign. Bryant had been following the issue in the papers, but until he was contacted, chose not to get involved. “The group that was working against the plant was getting the hell kicked out of them,” he remembered. “I had land near the proposed site and the longer the battle went on the more I knew I would have to become involved. But I hadn’t been politically active for years, and I like that.”

I don’t lose many battles,” Bryant continued. “People wanted to get me involved and brought political pressure on me. I’d just come out of a water meeting and a farmer approached me and asked me to help. He was practically in tears. His father had befriended me years earlier and it tipped the scales to get me involved.

“I asked for a week to get my affairs in order because I knew an all out fight lay ahead and I didn’t want anything to get in the way. We had a situation where the county was ready to go and we had to turn everything around.”

The San Joaquin Agricultural Protection Council formed at the next organizational meeting, and Dave Bryant became chairman. “The Board of Directors was a nucleus of talented people that wanted me to head it,” Bryant remembered. “I took the most undemocratic action ever. I told them, ‘if you want to win, do as I say.’ As uncouth as that was, I laid it on them. I ran the group with an iron hand. They needed a fighter. The others were being pushed around too much. I had the power to stop the pushing around.”

“I began by resurrecting the contacts I had that had been dormant for years, Bryant continued. “I got the behind—the-scenes support going. The biggest thing we had on our side was water. The utility needed sixty—four thousand gallons of water a day to cool the plant — and that water was needed for irrigation. My first job was to turn around the water agency.”

Bryant persuaded each member of the water agency to support a cut—off of negotiations with the LADWP, and to place the final decision on issuing a building permit with the Board of Supervisors. By December of 1976, Bryant convinced all the J water agency members to terminated negotiations with the LADWP.

With the water agency’s departure, Bryant concentrated on convincing the Board of Supervisors to not issue a building permit and persuaded county bureaucrats to help stop the plant at the appropriate time. He remembered that prior to his lobbying, “the utilities led thought leaders around by the rings through their noses.” Bryant provided them with alternative information. Opposition to the plant continued to build, but the Board of Supervisors still refused to formally oppose the project.

Farmers started to worry after the LADWP and PG6cE issued a draft Environmental Impact Report for the power plants. The report traced the salt drift from the cooling towers and showed the farm land that would become marginally productive. Farmers took the information seriously and alerted other farmers to the threat to their livelihood. Lane remembered, “Farmers who never read an EIR in their lives took the time to wade through and memorize the important sections. One farmer l was very good at finding the errors made in calculations by the utilities.”

The report discussed water — and water was a touchy issue among county residents. Farmers feared any threat to the availability of irrigation water. LADWP I claimed that only irrigation waste-water would be used to cool the reactors. At their own expense, the utility promised to build drainage tiles under the farms to collect irrigation drainage. However, this was not to be done until the l990’s. Until then, water from the California aqueduct would be used for cooling. Farmers worried that during a water shortage, the power plant would be given the first priority.

Kern County residents took pride in farming. Farming made people rich, and no one wanted to change the county’s economic base to nuclear power. People wondered, “if the benefits from nuclear power were so great, why not build the plant in downtown Los Angeles?” B They had not forgotten what had happened to the Owens Valley when J the LADWP took the water from that community and destroyed thousands of acres of farm land. At one point, farmers from the Owens Valley made a presentation to the Kern County Board of Supervisors on why they should not trust the LADWP.

The utilities continued to lobby the board, but agreed to abide by the “wishes of the county” in deciding if the plant should be built. Although the means of determining the wishes of the county remained ambiguous, County Counsel Ralph Jordan documented the agreement in the event it was needed later.

Despite the petitions and persistent lobbying of Dave Bryant, three members of the five member board could not be convinced to vote against the plant. “The situation was in limbo,” Bryant recalled. “I kept pressing for a decision. I didn’t want to be waited out. Corporations can wear you down and enthusiasm diminishes. Something had to be done while we were still strong. We had the feeling we could win.”

In December 1977, Bryant persuaded the Board to hold an advisory election and allow voters to decide on the issuance of a use permit. “Neither side welcomed the advisory election,” Bryant remembered, “But getting a decision was better than having nothing at all, and we were prepared to fight like hell.”

Immediately after the Board agreed to hold the election, County Counsel Ralph I Jordan produced a carefully worded statement for the ballot. It was clear and succinct, requiring a yes vote if people were for the plant, and a no vote if they opposed it.

Jordan wrote the measure after the LADWP agreed to abide by the wishes of the county, recognizing it might be needed. His advanced preparations, stimulated by Bryant’s earlier lobbying, eliminated long debates among Board members over the ballot l measure’s wording. A special election was scheduled for March 1978, and the measure appeared on the ballot as Proposition 3.

Kern County had always hated Los Angeles, so PG6cE managed the campaign to make it appear, the county’s own utility wanted the plant. Bernie Walp, a San Francisco-based campaign manager flew into town and announced PG&E was prepared to spend thousands of dollars to win the advisory election.

“This hit everybody wrong,” Tom Schroeter remembered. Shroeter worked for the No on 3 Committee, the political arm of the San Joaquin Agricultural Protection Counsel. “My phone rang off the hook from people volunteering to fight the plant and wanting to know what to do.”

Farmers volunteering for the Committee charged each other a tariff, based on acreage, to finance the campaign. As the campaign grew, contributions came in from several constituencies in the county. Plant proponents, however, had to extract money from corporations outside the county.

The nuclear industry took the election seriously. This was the first time local residents had a direct say—so in deciding if a nuclear power plant could be built in their community. Despite the money behind the campaign, PG&E never managed to get it off the ground. Walp tried to make the campaign a pro-nuclear vs. anti-nuclear issue. However, plant opponents (who were anti-nuclear) did not swallow the bait and kept the issue focused on water, salt drift, and the question of local control. They stressed it simply did not make sense to site a nuclear power plant in Kern County.

The pronuclear advertisements accused the plant opponents of being “in cahoots” with the Arabs to deprive America of energy independence and said it was a person’s patriotic duty to vote for the plant. The advertisement offended locals because Kern county exported oil.

The League of Women Voters organized a series of radio and television debates. Each side recognized the strategic importance of looking good on television. Plant supporters wanted the discussion limited to a “question and answer format.” The Noon 3 Committee advocated a straight debate format.

Dwight Cocke, campaign manager for the No on 3 Committee remembered, “If the show format was organized as they suggested, it would have had a negative impact on our side. It would water down and distort the issues.” Negotiations continued for five hours. Cocke refused to accept a question and answer format, and eventually Walp accepted a debate format.

Speakers representing the No on 3 Committee carefully rehearsed their speeches before the debates and practiced responses to various types of questions. The speakers continued to improve with experience. Each knew their facts and the plant’s implications for the county. Two full time volunteer-researchers provided the speakers with material for their presentations.

The campaign rapidly gained momentum. The No on 3 Committee sent four mailings to every voter in the county. One volunteer for the campaign remembered I that the postal workers always promised to get the mailing out immediately when he brought it into the post office.

Don Widner, producer of “The Powers That Be”, the investigative documentary on nuclear power, produced the No On 3 television spots. One featured Dale Bridenbaugh standing in a corn field saying, “I grew up on a farm; and then I became a nuclear f engineer. Farming and nuclear power are not compatible. I urge you to vote no on Proposition 3.”

Campaign manager Dwight Cocke explained, The campaign fell together beyond f anybody’s anticipation. It was a lot of hard work but you could see that it was moving.” One of the most successful tactics was canvassing the county voting precincts. Local residents originally opposed this tactic, fearing an invasion of privacy. But the No on 3 organizers rehearsed techniques with precinct walkers and devised a method they felt did not violate local standards of etiquette.

Ken Masterton, canvass coordinator, said that precinct walkers received a warm reception when they talked to people in their homes. It gave volunteers confidence to continue and they recruited still more walkers. Housewives walked with their children and even electricians and plumbers took leaves from their jobs to walk precincts. Almost three-quarters of all the precincts in the county had been covered by election day. It , was the most extensive canvassing ever to take place in the county and it became a model for future elections.

Information about the plant was available through a number of different mediums. The Bakersfield Californian, the county newspaper, provided thorough coverage on the issue. Pattie Keller, assigned to cover the story, wrote clearly and presented the material in a straight—forward unbiased style. “Pattie was a good reporter who understood the issues,” Dwight Cocke remembered. “She could write well and had a good political sense that she could reflect in her articles. Her stories were even and objective. Kern County was fortunate to have someone like that.”

The Bakersfield Californian printed an editorial against the plant. The closing comment was “build it in El Segundo,” (a town where the sewage for Los Angeles is collected.) The phrase became a rallying cry for plant opponents. Two weeks before the election, the California Water Agency withdrew its interest in the plant. Representatives said that the plant violated the 1976 Nuclear Safeguards Laws which required that a practical radioactive waste storage method be demonstrated before more nuclear power plants could be built in California.

On election day, the No On 3 Committee installed fifty phones in the No on 3 campaign headquarters for the get out the vote drive. Everyone who indicated that they were opposed to the plant during the canvass was called and asked if they had k voted. If not, they were encouraged to do so, and called later in the day to make sure they had done so.

Seventy percent of the electorate cast their vote against the plant. Organizers A never dreamed of winning by such a large margin. Dave Bryant appeared before the Board of Supervisors one week after the election. “They asked me what we wanted,” Bryant remembered. “I told them I came to see what they were going to do. They voted against the plant.” The LADWP and PG&E subsequently withdrew their plans.

Veterans of the campaign say no campaign has ever been the same. People with fundamentally different political perspectives worked well together. The diversity of talents built a successful campaign. Farmers who began the campaign “not wanting a power plant in their backyard,” changed their minds and “didn’t want a nuclear plant in anyone else’s backyard either,” one organizer fondly remembered.

“People thought it was the water issue that turned the plant around, Bryant reflected. “I don’t believe that, because we had so many justifications to oppose the plant. People knew intuitively that it was wrong.”

Footnotes for Chapter 5

1. “PG&E Has Plans for Mendocino,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 5, 1966.

2. Scott Thurber, “The Usual Arguments For and Against PG&E,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 6, 1966.

3. ibid.

4. Doug Willis, “Reagan Aid Involved in Nuclear Row,” Oakland Tribune, October 27, 1971.

5. ibid.

6. ibid.

7. Don Righetti, “Experts Debate Dangers of Nuclear Power Plants,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, June 24, 1970.

8. Frances Gregory, personal interview, May 18, 1982.

9. Robert E. Garrison and Robert Coe, “Safety Not Proved at Davenport Site,” Letters to the editor, Santa Cruz Sentinel, June 24, 1971.

10. Tom Harris, “Quake Fault Near Nuclear Site,” San Jose Mercury, February 19, 1971.

11. Garrison and Coe, letter to the editor.

12. Don Righetti, “PG&E Davenport Tunnel Show Site Long Inactive,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 26, 1971.

13. Richard Cole, PG&E Prepares for Davenport Plant,” Santa Cruz Times, October 3-10, 1974.


Leave a Reply