sanbrunofirearnold.jpgGov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law a bill that provides disaster relief funds to the families and businesses affected by the Sept. 9 San Bruno natural gas explosion and fire.

The relief bill will also provide a one-year reimbursement for San Mateo County, the city of San Bruno, and local schools.

The bill, now called ABx6 11, was originally introduced by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, as SBx6 21. It will help provide support through tax write-offs.

The name of the bill, co-authored by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, was changed after Yee refused to approve the overall budget and was stripped of authorship.

The bill allows victims who were homeowners in the area to file a $7,000 property tax exemption even though their homes were destroyed or damaged, Hill’s office said.

Yee spokesman Adam Keigwin explained, “They lost their homes. This bill is really the least we can do for them.”

Damaged homes will be reassessed for a lower value, Keigwin said.

“Homes won’t be worth as much,” Keigwin said. “This bill will make sure they don’t see a loss.”

The bill will also allow individuals and businesses to deduct income from lost wages resulting from the disaster.

Since the incident is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, the state will have to front the money until a responsible party is named, Keigwin said.

Once identified, the responsible party will have to reimburse the state.

It could take about a year for the state to be reimbursed, Keigwin said.

On Tuesday, officials from PG&E and the California Public Utilities Commission joined victims of the explosion to testify before a joint state Senate committee hearing in Sacramento.

The meeting of the Committee on Public Safety and the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications and Public Safety, which was co-chaired by Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Alex Padilla, D-San Fernando Valley, brought together parties that included San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane and residents of the Crestmoor Canyon neighborhood.

Rene Morales, whose 20-year-old daughter Jessica died in the fire, struggled to hold back tears as she gave her testimony.

“Jessica paid the ultimate price,” she said.

Officials from the CPUC were on hand to review the agency’s responsibility in overseeing and regulating PG&E’s network of more than 6,000 miles of natural gas pipeline while working with limited resources and limited staff.

CPUC executive director Paul Clanon estimated that as little as 1 percent of PG&E’s pipelines could actually by physically inspected by CPUC staff.

“We have a regulatory hole that we need to plug,” Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Los Angeles, said.

CPUC policies currently allow PG&E to audit its own pipeline maintenance practices.
Other concerns raised by committee members included greater scrutiny of PG&E’s pipeline inspection and repair policies, self-auditing practices and installation of remotely controlled, and automatic valves on gas transmission lines.

PG&E vice president of natural gas transmission and distribution Kirk Johnson told the committees that PG&E was committed to rebuilding public trust following the disaster.

Johnson said PG&E has already reimbursed individual residents up to $50,000 and given the city of San Bruno a check for $3 million to begin to help the city cover its immediate costs of responding to the disaster.

The utility company has also established a $100 million “Rebuild San Bruno” fund to help cover the costs of reconstruction.

“We know there’s a long road ahead,” Johnson said. “We’ll do what’s right to help people rebuild their lives.”

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