sanbrunofirecrater.jpgState public utility officials defended their actions Tuesday evening to an audience of skeptical legislators and victims of a pipeline explosion that tore through a San Bruno neighborhood on Sept. 9.

More than 100 people gathered at the San Bruno Senior Center at 1555 Crystal Springs Road to discuss the aftermath of the blast, which leveled more than 35 homes and killed eight people.

Among unanswered questions, officials still don’t know what ignited the rupture, and it remains unclear who will pay for the rebuilding of the neighborhood.

“For ratepayers to have to pay for repairs on your pipeline that exploded–to me, that’s insulting and it should be insulting to every customer that you have,” said Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, whose district encompasses a swath of Los Angeles County.

But Paul Clanon, executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission, insisted the natural gas line that exploded was under close supervision before the disaster.

“This was not a line that was ignored. It’s not a line where people were looking the other way,” he said. “It’s a line where something like state-of-the-art inspections were being conducted routinely up until the time of the explosion.”

Clanon outraged several attendees when he defended PG&E’s 2008 decision to re-prioritize about $5 million received from customers, which was initially slated to repair another part of the line that runs through South San Francisco.

“We know that they spent it on pipelines,” he said, and several in the audience yelled out, “How?”

PG&E received another $5.2 million from customers for various service improvements in 2009, spokeswoman Katie Romans said in an earlier interview.

Paperwork that initially requested the 2009 money, called a rate case, indicated that South San Francisco again needed repair.

The paperwork said, “This is driven by relatively high risk and likelihood of failure for all parts. If the replacement of this pipe does not occur, risks associated with this segment will not be reduced.”

Among many legislators, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, questioned Clanon’s dedication to replacing the pipe.

“I’ve heard you worm out of the question around the $5 million twice now,” he said. “I know we’re making you squirm a little bit, but that’s why you get paid the big bucks.”

At a press conference before the forum, Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, discussed a bill he introduced that is meant to prevent disasters like the explosion in San Bruno’s Crestmoor neighborhood.

Assembly Bill 56 would require utilities to prepare annual performance reports that discuss any pipeline problems to the commission.

In addition, by 2012, utility companies would have to develop a public education program about their emergency response plans, he said.

“We must ensure that disasters like the one in San Bruno never happen again,” Hill said.

Saul Sugarman, Bay City News

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