City of South Gate: The Nueva Azalea Power Plant
In January of 2001, Californians were forced to quickly learn the definition of a “rolling-blackout.” The energy crisis dominated newspaper headlines, consumed the evening news and had the state government working overtime. Power plant construction quickly became a hot topic and the energy crisis was creating a political climate geared toward building power plants no matter what the monetary or environmental costs. One such proposal was in the City of South Gate, located South East of Los Angeles.
The Sunlaw Energy Corporation proposed to build a 550-megawatt power plant (called “Nueva Azalea”) on the eastern edge of the city along the 710 Freeway. What made this power plant unique was that it was going to use untested technology, labeled “SCONOx,” to power it. SCONOx was previously in use on power plants that were no larger than 33-megawatts. However, Nueva Azalea was slated to be 17 times larger (approximately the size of Dodger Stadium) than other power plants using the SCONOx technology.
Sunlaw began putting together a public education campaign by sending mail to residents saying that Nueva Azalea was going to bring jobs to South Gate and that the SCONOx technology was actually going to make the air cleaner. In response to Sunlaw’s efforts, the South Gate City Council drafted a measure and put it on the March 6th ballot. Called “Measure A,” it was a nonbinding resolution that asked voters whether or not they wanted Nueva Azalea to be built.
Harvey Englander was given the specific mission of providing all 90,000+ citizens with the necessary information they needed to speak out for or against the power plant. Because public funds were being used for the campaign, the materials needed to present both sides of the proposal and could not advocate a YES or NO vote. Moreover, this multi-facetted public education campaign needed to be quickly executed because Governor Davis had just signed an executive order that fast-tracked the power plant approval process to 21 days.
Fearing that Nueva Azalea would be approved before the citizens of South Gate ever got a say in the matter, the team jumped into action by focusing on factual information about its construction, and the environmental impacts of a power plant its size. The campaign began with an informational meeting open to all residents of the City of South Gate and the neighboring City of Downey. That effort was followed up with a telemarketing effort where a live operator capable of speaking Spanish and English invited residents to the community meeting. The meeting was a success, as the host community center was filled to capacity, forcing officials to set up speakers outside the center so people could listen in while sitting on the community center’s front lawn.
The community began a dialogue on the issue and Nueva Azalea began to get regional coverage. Public sentiment overwhelmingly favored putting a halt to the project. On election day, the City of South Gate voted 2 to 1 to reject the power plant proposal. In the end, the community got a chance to voice their opinion – and Sunlaw Energy Corporation heard them by effectively ending its effort to build Nueva Azalea.