The city of San Bruno is calling for the California Legislature and the state attorney general to investigate the reassignment of a legal team charged with probing the deadly PG&E gas pipeline explosion that killed eight residents and leveled 38 homes in San Bruno nearly three years ago.
San Bruno spokesman Sam Singer said the four lead safety and enforcement division attorneys for the California Public Utilities Commission stopped working on the PG&E case sometime between Saturday and Tuesday, when the city was made aware of the staffing change.
He claims the timing is “uncanny” as the legal team has a Friday deadline to turn over its recommendation to two administrative law judges on what fine the CPUC should levy against PG&E for the Sept. 9, 2010 PG&E explosion and fire.
“We wonder how this division could possibly submit the legal documents by Friday when the team has resigned,” Singer said today.
CPUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said the lawyers simply asked for reassignments, which were granted.
CPUC investigators recommended in early May that the commission impose a $2.25 billion penalty against PG&E for the explosion.
San Bruno officials fear that the legal team’s departure could signal that PG&E will face a more lenient penalty.
Mayor Jim Ruane questioned why the attorneys, who were intimately familiar with the case after working on it for years, were taken off the job.
“Is it because they did not want to see nearly three years of their work turned into a conclusion that lets PG&E off the hook?” he asked.
San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson said all of the entities involved in the resolution of the deadly blast case must submit reply briefs by Friday to the proposed penalties against PG&E.
The entities are the CPUC Safety Enforcement Division, the cities of San Francisco and San Bruno, the Division of Ratepayer Advocates and utility watchdog group The Utility Reform Network, or TURN.
In a news release today, the CPUC announced the completion of its reply brief, in which it heavily criticized PG&E for its “wrongdoing, compounded by its lack of genuine remorse.”
But San Bruno officials said the CPUC brief filed today was signed only by Brigadier General (CA) Jack Hagan, director of the CPUC’s safety and enforcement division, and not the lawyers who were reassigned, according to Singer.
“I believe this is the first time in history that this has occurred, it shows a schism in the CPUC over right and wrong,” Singer said.
The deadly San Bruno blast happened in the city’s close-knit Crestmoor Canyon neighborhood in September 2010, killing eight people.
The city wants PG&E to be fined $2.25 billion and face other penalties, with no credit for money spent and no tax benefit, according to Singer.
“The city lost eight souls, dozens more were severely injured—38 homes were destroyed by PG&E’s negligence, and the regulatory board that is supposed to protect the public can’t even do that,” Jackson said.
According to Jackson, the legal team’s reassignment just days before the brief is due shakes the city’s confidence in the CPUC’s ability to reach a fair outcome.
“The city of San Bruno has witnessed firsthand a long list of deficiencies and disruptions and we don’t have a great deal of confidence in the PUC process at this point,” Jackson said.
Aimee Lewis Strain, Bay City News