Hayward’s Russell City Energy Center.

ASSEMBLY | 20TH ASSEMBLY FORUM | Hayward residents are in the mood to question whether Calpine’s Russell City Energy Center was such a good idea, after all. At a candidate’s forum for 20th Assembly District race, the issue dominated the nearly hour-long discussion. Assemblymember Bill Quirk’s consistent support of the plant going back to his days on the Hayward City Council gave his two opponents a sizable point of attack.

Both the Republican, first time candidate Jaime Patiño and Luis Reynoso, an elected member of the Hayward school board, who left the party this year, hammered away at Quirk for his support of Calpine’s natural gas-fired power plant recently constructed on the Hayward shoreline.

Last month, staff from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District filed a complaint with the state asserting the plant, which opened last October, was emitting 10 times the allowed amount of water particulate into the air. The plant, which can be seen lighting up the night sky when traveling east on the San Mateo Bridge, has long been a flash point for Hayward residents, in addition to students and administration at nearby Chabot College, who say the plant will add pollution to the area.

Bill Quirk, Luis Reynoso, Jaime Patiño

Quirk, however, called the plant “healthy” during the candidate’s forum Friday night in Hayward and said there is no reason to shut it down. “The plant—it’s quite healthy,” said Quirk. “That plant is very necessary. It is a modern plant.” Quirk told the audience, in fact, he had met with Calpine officials earlier in the day Friday and the energy company said the air quality issues would be fixed “within a day or two.”

“I can say this because I haven’t taken a dime [from Calpine],” said Patiño, who described the area as filthy near the power plant along Depot Road. “If it’s ugly to be on your car, you can’t tell me its healthy to be in your lungs,” Patiño shot back. Since 2012, Quirk has received $14,400 in contributions from Calpine and its executives.

The outspoken Reynoso then joined the fray. “This thing is a smokestack,” he said of the power plant. “What was going through the minds of this City Council?” Reynoso turned to his opponents and said, “Mr. Quirk, bad choice on promoting that plant.” Quirk rose and countered drolly, “Well, they have perhaps found a theme.”

“This is interesting. We have two Republicans who I’m pretty sure will oppose, as all Republican do, all the bills we have for clean energy, for renewable energy,” said Quirk. Reynoso, though, corrected him, “I’m not a Republican.” Said Quirk, “Well, you were the last election.” Reynoso recently switched to No Party Preference, saying both parties have left him out in the cold ideologically.

The discussion soon switched to fracking. Quirk described co-authoring legislation last year he believes is “so strict we’ll never have fracking in this state” and vowed to protect the ground water and clean air. “Well, there he goes again,” said Patiño. “He wants clean air, but we got Calpine.” Patiño, though, was the only candidate who advocated for fracking’s potential for creating jobs and new streams of tax revenue. “He never met a tax he didn’t like,” Patiño said of Quirk. “He can the tax the heck out of it. You know I won’t tell you one thing here and then Calpine something else.”

Reynoso said he opposes fracking. “I’m not going to do anything to put the water in danger,” he said. “If you allow fracking , there will be another Calpine. If you doubt me, go to Mexico and look at their water.”

Quirk, believes, the real crisis in the state is the potential rise of moderate Democrats in the State Legislature through the top-two primary system. He highlighted the issue in both his opening and closing remarks. “We are getting more and more so-called New Democrats, moderate Democrats, and it’s getting very difficult now to get some very good legislation passed.” For instance, he said, progressive legislation last year to significantly raise fines against oil companies like Chevron in Richmond following a fire in 2012 and limits on the number of bullets in a semi-automatic magazine were defeated by moderates, said Quirk.

Similarly, Quirk said his biggest accomplishment during his first year in the Assembly was being named a member of the public safety committee. Here, said Quirk, he was able to help block from heading to the Assembly floor, Republican-led “lock ‘em up and throw away the key bills,” he says do not work. Among public safety committee members, said Quirk, “I’m considered the rock of that group.”