Dianne Martinez has come a long way in her career. Recently re-elected to the Emeryville City Council, she served as mayor in 2016 and sits on the boards of East Bay Community Energy and StopWaste, which fights solid waste, food waste, and energy waste in Alameda County.
But not so long ago she was a reality TV producer in Los Angeles, filming pop star Jessica Simpson at Cancun spring break. Other big hits were the MTV dating shows Date My Mom, Dismissed, and Exposed, which used lie detectors to winnow out dating partners.
When her husband got accepted to law school at UC Berkeley in 2008, they moved to the East Bay, where she got interested in local politics. When she learned that Jennifer West was leaving her seat on the Emeryville City Council, she was inspired to run, to make sure the Council continued to have a progressive voice, a woman, and a parent of young children.
It was on the Council that she got involved in the steering committee to explore creating a community choice energy program. “I was not an energy expert but I saw the steering committee as an educational opportunity,” she recalls. Learning about the electricity business got her hooked. She joined the EBCE board when it launched.
“What got me excited was the environmental impacts it would have,” she says. “Renewable energy just passed coal for the first time in the US. Local public officials are part of that solution.”
She has found strong support from constituents for the move to community energy. “It’s kind of a no brainer for most people. People want renewable energy.”
Voters also want local development, like rooftop solar and energy efficiency jobs, but Martinez says that requires EBCE to get on solid financial footing first.
“It’s a question of timing,” she says. “Do we make a robust plan to execute in the future when we are more established, or spread ourselves too thin in early stages? I’d like to be well rooted first, and create the capacity to move the needle when the time comes.”
“In the long term we can position ourselves financially to make big investments in Alameda County,” she says. “Then we can make local projects happen that excite the community and help them understand what EBCE does.”
She also hears complaints from residents that their bills are going up, even though EBCE has lower rates than PG&E. “There is a lot of misinformation on social media,” she says. “People say ‘I want to believe you but I don’t!’ I just tell them to look at the rate comparison chart.”
Still, she is heartened by the high level of community involvement she sees. “People are involved in a way they could never be with an investor-owned utility,” she says.
She thinks the time is right for EBCE. “This is the right time to shift focus away from investor-owned utilities, for community choice aggregators to come to the front and do the work people are asking for.”
“We’re at the very beginning of an agency that will do so much good.”