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Union leader threatens San Luis Obispo with ‘no social distancing’ protest

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SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- A union leader representing So Cal Gas Company employees threatened to bus people to San Luis Obispo where they would not practice social distancing and protest a city energy proposal that favors electricity over gas.

Eric Hoffman sent an email to San Luis Obispo Community Development Director Michael Codron and other city leaders on March 16. It reads, in part:

"Please don't force my hand in busing in hundreds and hundreds of pissed off people potentially adding to this pandemic."

Hoffman is the President of the Utility Workers Union of America Local 132. The group represents thousands of employees of So Cal Gas. He threatened to close streets for a massive protest with "no social distancing in place" on April 7, the same day the energy proposal was scheduled to go up for a vote before city council. In the end, that vote did not happen and neither did the protest.

News Channel 12 spoke with San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon about the letter and the proposal Thursday afternoon.

"I was - and am - really disappointed and also concerned that someone would threaten the health and safety of not only our community, but of the working people he represents," Harmon said.

Email from union leader to SLO Community Development Director.

The energy proposal encourages all-electric new construction in San Luis Obispo. If a developer chooses gas, they would have to retrofit an existing building or pay into a city fund used to replace gas with electricity. Other cities have passed similar laws in an effort to phase out fossil fuels. San Luis Obispo has pushed back the proposal for the time being.

"When they threatened to bring hundreds of - as they said - really 'pissed off people' here to endanger our community, we did pump the brakes and hit pause just to assess the situation," Harmon said.

The Mayor told us city leaders are now talking about moving forward with the energy proposal as swiftly as possible.

"It's a false choice that we need to choose between a clean energy future or jobs," Harmon said. "It's really clear that those two things can and must go together.

"I empathize with the concern around job loss, especially now when so many people are losing their jobs in so many industries. I really hope that we can unite and put our energy towards solving that problem and working together to build that bridge out of these older jobs that are transitioning out of being helpful to our planet and to our communities, and helping these people transition into new clean energy jobs."

So Cal Gas says the union speaks for itself. We reached out to the union and did not hear back.

The email was first obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Climate Investigations Center, a fossil fuel industry watchdog group.

Coronavirus / Local Politics / San Luis Obispo County

Scott Hennessee

Scott Hennessee is the co-anchor of KCOY 12 Central Coast News evening newscasts and co-anchor of KKFX My Fox 11 news at 10 p.m.