1a : an authoritative decree or direction : order

1b : a law set forth by a governmental authority; specifically : a municipal regulation

2: something ordained or decreed by fate or a deity

3: a prescribed usage, practice, or ceremony


1a : a legally authorized period of delay in the performance of a legal obligation or the payment of a debt

1b : a waiting period set by an authority

2: a suspension of activity

SmartMeter opponents to seek sheriff recall over enforcement of county moratorium

By Jason Hoppin

Posted: 08/05/2011 02:51:06 PM PDTSANTA CRUZ – SmartMeter opponents are mounting a recall of Sheriff Phil Wowak, arguing that he has failed to enforce the county’s SmartMeter moratorium.

The petition drive was announced Friday on the steps of the county courthouse by about 20 sign-carrying protesters, and is being led by, a group critical of the wireless meters that spearheaded efforts to get the moratorium passed and has waged a series of local protests over SmartMeters.

“We have tried to explain that an injury by microwave radiation is just as serious as an injury from a gun or a knife or a fist,” said Josh Hart, who heads “Even though it’s invisible, this is a real injury. He needs to take this seriously. If he won’t meet with us and hear the accounts of the people who were injured, then we will seek his recall and find a sheriff who will enforce the law and do his job.”

Wowak said he has to prioritize limited resources. Facing 100,000 annual calls for service and managing a short-staffed department, he said SmartMeter complaints are not as much of a priority as imminent public safety threats.

“I believe it’s a very inefficient use of resources and dollars to arrest and give a criminal record to workers who are employed by either a contractor or PG&E and are just doing their job,” Wowak said.

The sheriff’s office has invited people to file reports if they received a meter in violation of the county’s ordinance, but earlier this week reported none despite a countywide SmartMeter rollout by PG&E.

Dozens of municipalities have adopted ordinances calling on state utilities to halt SmartMeters installations, which provide a detailed look at consumers’ electrical usage. Those votes are seen as symbolic, however, since the California Public Utilities Commission, not local governments, regulate utilities.

SmartMeters are part of the SmartGrid, a policy objective of President Obama’s administration to slash the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Giving customers detailed feedback on their electricity use allows them to pare it back during peak usage hours, reducing the amount of energy needed to meet demand, proponents argue.

But opponents say they know scores of people affected by wireless transmissions, with their health effects the subject of an ongoing scientific debate. Some locals report vomiting, restlessness, headaches and more serious symptoms after SmartMeters were installed.

“Within a half hour, my whole nervous system was crashing,” said Aptos resident Tammie Donnelly, who said she was among the first county residents to get a SmartMeter.

While wireless health effects remain a fierce debate, utilities seem to have been singled out by opponents. Wireless is available everywhere from libraries to McDonald’s fast-food joints, wireless transmission towers dot the landscape and even many water meters transmit wirelessly.

“This is my house. I have property rights. I can choose not to go into McDonald’s, I can choose not go near a cell phone tower. But now we have an outside corporation mandating on my personal property that they are going to put a wireless transmitter on my house, my personal haven, against my will,” said Jeff Nordahl, a SmartMeter opponent.

Amid SmartMeter criticism, PG&E has proposed an opt-out option that would allow customers to keep their analog meters. But it will cost customers hundreds of dollars, and the Public Utilities Commission has yet to approve it.

That option – which SmartMeter opponents say is insufficient to protects people’s health – will likely take many months to become official, if it does at all, according to a PUC spokesman. The PUC is scheduled to discuss the opt-out at a September workshop.

In recent memory, no county elected official has been recalled. Wowak was served with the initial recall paperwork Friday, initiating what could be a lengthy process.

Elected officials can be recalled for any reason. Once the notice is filed with the county elections office, petitioners have 160 days to collect signatures from 10 percent of registered voters to put the recall on the ballot.

In Santa Cruz County, that number is 14,702 voters. Hart said county residents can expect to see people gathering signatures throughout the county.

“We don’t think we’ll have any problem getting that number of signatures,” Hart said.

In 2009, Wowak was appointed by the county board to succeed retiring Sheriff-Coroner Steve Robbins. He was re-elected in 2010.

Recall elections are also subject to campaign finance laws.