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Mickey Mouse Move, Energy Fight and Fast Cars

Columnist: Bill Meagher
May, 2010 Issue

Bill Meagher
All articles by columnist

Disney called it a wrap with its ImageMovers Digital (IMD) studio at Hamilton Landing and, eventually, the 450 employees who toil in Novato are going to find out what a small, small world it is.
In a painfully clear message from Walt Disney Studios President Alan Bergman, the entertainment multi-national left no wiggle room as to the future of IMD: “Given today’s economic realities, we need to find alternative ways to bring creative content to audiences, and IMD no longer fits our business model.”

While many of us grew up with animated movies like “Snow White” and “The Jungle Book,” and Walt Disney’s odd mustache, the Disney Corporation long ago became a conglomerate that’s actually as concerned with stockholder and investor blowback as it is with network ratings and the weekend box office. Disney owns Walt Disney World Parks, Walt Disney Consumer Products, Walt Disney Imagineering, Walt Disney Channel, Disney Cruise Lines, Radio Disney, Miramax, ABC Network, ABC Family, ABC Studios, SOAP Network, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN 360 and numerous other properties.

When ImageMovers signed a lease for 90,000 square feet of space at Hamilton, the celebration was just short of a ticker tape parade. And while ImageMovers has produced such movies as “A Christmas Carol” and “Cast Away,” Disney has scrapped a trio of movies including “Wild Hogs 2.” While anyone who saw John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, William H. Macy and Tim Allen sleepwalk through that bomb can certainly understand Disney’s decision, an argument can be made that ImageMovers isn’t stinking it up the way ABC’s “America’s Funniest Home Videos” or ESPN’s “Bass Fishing” does.

Disney, which is trying desperately to unload Miramax, has been taking water over the side since Dick Cook walked the plank a year ago. His replacement, Rich Ross, has been slicing and dicing ever since.

ImageMovers will wind down by January 2011. The last movie to clear the studio will be “Mars Needs Moms,” a 3-D film starring Joan Cusack, about a mom kidnapped by martians.

With rock solid films like that, it’s hard to believe ImageMovers is closing up.

PG&E turns up the heat

The brawl between PG&E and the Marin Energy Authority (MEA) is heating up—and no expense is being spared. The folks who bring electricity as well as gas to Marin County told shareholders that the fight to keep residents of San Rafael, Mill Valley, Sausalito, Tiburon, San Anselmo, Fairfax, Belvedere and the county of Marin from leaving PG&E for the energy authority is going to cost a bunch.

The MEA was formed in December 2008 to deliver green energy to Marin County, but the utility sees the effort as a risky proposition for residents as well as the government getting into the utility business.

In turn, PG&E has put Proposition 16 on the June ballot. The proposition seeks a law stipulating that the formation of a city- or county-owned utility would require a two-thirds majority vote. The effort to put Proposition 16 on the ballot and win will run between $25 million and $35 million.

Two groups, Common Sense and the Coalition for Reliable and Affordable Electricity, have sprung up to look after PG&E’s interest in keeping the MEA at bay as well as passing Proposition 16. The coalition is an umbrella organization that’s paying the way for Common Sense. No stranger to lobbying and political advocacy, PG&E has put former assemblyman and current economist Joe Nation on its payroll to argue its case for the hearts, minds and wallets of current PG&E customers. So far, local mailboxes are the place where PG&E is making the biggest impact. With St. Patrick’s Day two days distant at this writing, the utility is carpet bombing the post office with direct mail, including two pieces on March 15.

The MEA filed a complaint with the utility watchdog California Public Utilities Commission, charging PG&E is breaking state laws by “pouring millions of dollars into special interest lobbying groups aggressively seeking to kill a local program designed to provide residents and businesses with twice the renewable energy as the giant utility for the same price.” The MEA has also charged that PG&E, through the two lobbying groups, has influenced local lenders to steer clear of providing working capital or loans for the MEA. The energy authority was able to shag a $1.7 million line of credit from River City Bank in Sacramento. The same bank also agreed to make a $500,000 loan to the fledgling enterprise.

Another local angle? Mill Valley’s own Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor, a powerhouse political consulting law firm, has picked up north of $200,000 helping PG&E with the proposition.

Marin Supervisor Charles McGlashan, who’s also the chairman of the MEA board, told the Marin IJ, “It’s tough taking on somebody who can spend $25 million on a statewide campaign and $10 million to crush us.”

McGlashan is a smart guy. He had to have an idea of what the utility was willing to spend to hold its customers. And nobody ever went wrong painting themselves as the underdog to PG&E.

Shameless plug for a good cause

“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz/my friends all drive Porsches/I must make amends.” Those are the lyrics from the song “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin, off the 1971 album Pearl. And the Marin Sonoma Concours d’Elegance, which benefits Hospice by the Bay, understands those lyrics are ironic, in that a Porsche owned by Joplin and housed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland will be on display. The event, which is May 16 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Marin Center Fairgrounds, will feature the custom-painted 1965 Porsche Cabriolet Super C among many other interesting, rare and expensive automobiles, and raises cash for a fine nonprofit organization.




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