Kern County supervisors voted Tuesday to terminate the Property Assessed Clean Energy program in unincorporated Kern County.
The vote didn’t come without challenge.
Local contractors and companies that administer the clean energy improvement financing program questioned whether supervisors had promised local Realtors that they would kill PACE months before the issue ever came to a public vote.
Jim Whittington, of Whittington Solar in Bakersfield, asked why a representative of the Bakersfield Association of Realtors wrote in a December 2016 grant application for funds to fight PACE that she had met with local elected officials who were willing to “commit the votes” needed to end PACE here.
Is that a violation of California’s open meetings law, the Ralph M. Brown Act? Did supervisors, he asked, sell out?
“This really stinks of corruption,” Whittington said.
Supervisors denied his allegations and Interim Kern County Counsel Mark Nations said lobbying doesn’t violate the Brown Act.
“I am confident that people on both sides of this issue have met with supervisors to lobby, but that is a specific exemption to the serial meeting provision of the Brown Act,” he said.
Supervisor Mick Gleason called the accusations “ridiculous.”
“There was no backroom deal,” he said. “I never once told one individual — and I never do — my stance on an issue until I hit that button” to vote.
Supervisors David Couch, Zack Scrivner and Mike Maggard all said they didn’t promise their votes. Supervisor Leticia Perez — who cast the lone vote against terminating PACE when this issue came before the Kern County Board of Supervisors last month — was absent.
“I think it is a sad day in this country when we cannot have a difference of opinion without the character of the person in the disagreement being assassinated,” Maggard said.
Supervisors said the core reason they voted against the PACE program is that it funds the home improvements with “super liens” that trump home mortgages and can make it difficult for property owners to sell their homes.
The Property Assessed Clean Energy financing program works differently from other home financing loans and options.
It is administered by private companies that fund the debt by placing a lien on the property that doesn’t travel with the homeowner — forcing a person selling a PACE home to either pay off the lump sum amount or convince a buyer to pick up some or all of the debt. The Kern County Treasurer-Tax Collector is forced to collect repayments to the private companies on the tax rolls.
And supervisors said that system just won’t do.
Fix it, they said, and they would be happy to revive PACE in unincorporated Kern County.
PACE-affiliated company officials asked supervisors, in light of regulatory legislation wending its way through the legislature and of a public records request intended to get to the bottom of the accusations of backroom dealing by the board, to postpone any action to terminate PACE.
But supervisors went ahead and voted to kill the program.
For eight of the nine companies that administer PACE loans the authorization to conduct new business is terminated immediately. Current contract processes will be allowed to complete.
But that’s it.
The ninth company offering the service, Renovate Americas’ HERO Program, will continue for the next six months because that company had a different contract with the county.