Herrera Joins Call For More CPUC Transparency

Charging that the San Bruno explosion investigation has been kept under wraps, on Wednesday consumer advocates and San Francisco’s city attorney demanded more transparency from the CPUC, claiming that the commission has buried its investigation deeper than the crater blasted out by the September 9th pipeline explosion.

SAN FRANCISCO—Charging that the San Bruno explosion investigation has been kept under wraps, on Wednesday consumer advocates and San Francisco’s city attorney demanded more transparency from the California Public Utilities Commission.

Critics claim that the CPUC has buried its investigation deeper than the crater blasted out by the September 9th pipeline explosion.

Angry, frustrated but determined consumer advocate Mark Toney of The Utility Reform Group (TURN) filed a legal petition with the California Public Utilities Commission to force it to let the sunshine in.

"It is the right thing to do. It is the time to do it," said Toney. "Up until now, the Public Utilities Commission has only had an informal investigation that’s been private."

Consumer advocates said that without a formal investigation, the CPUC can’t order PG&E corrective action or to fine it if it does not.

"The information has been closed to the public," said Toney. "It is time for the Public Utilities Commission to open up a public investigation because the public has a right to know."

Joining TURN on the petition is San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose city is also served by the pipeline that exploded.

"[We need to] make sure that’s it’s a public transparent process, open to peer review to review of evidence to assure that the factual findings are accurate and that the public is aware of what caused this terrible tragedy," said Herrera.

San Bruno resident Jerry Castro agreed with the need for transparency.

"When you have danger of life, everything should be open. Especially this time of age," said Castro. "Information is the key out here. Let it all out. If you are confident of what you’re doing, let everybody know about it."

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed two new commissioners to the California Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday.

The regulatory agency welcomed new commissioners Mike Florio and Catherine Sandoval, CPUC spokeswoman Susan Carothers said.

Florio and Sandoval will join current commissioners Timothy Alan Simon and president Michael Peevey in time for the CPUC’s next meeting on Thursday, Carothers said.

"I look forward to collaborating with both new commissioners as we work to strengthen our commitment to consumer protection and safety," Peevey said.

When the newly appointed, less utility friendly state public utilities commission holds its first formal meeting Thursday, this new petition will be a top priority.

The petition comes the same day that the parents of a woman who was killed in the gas line explosion filed a wrongful death lawsuit against PG&E in San Francisco Superior Court.

The suit, filed by Israel and Rene Morales, alleges that "negligence and ultrahazardous dangerous activity" on the part of PG&E led to the death of their daughter, 20-year-old Jessica Morales.

Morales was visiting her boyfriend at his home at 1701 Earl St. on the night of the Sept. 9 explosion.

The fire that followed the explosion devoured the home and killed Morales, who was found the next morning in the shed of a neighboring home.

The explosion killed seven other people and destroyed dozens of houses.

"We believe that this incident was totally preventable," attorney John Feder said. "If they had done their job and fixed a number of safety hazards, it would never have happened, yet they chose to endanger the public."

"We feel it was akin to a ticking time bomb," he added.

In the complaint, Feder said that PG&E has been cited for safety violations 411 times since 2004. He said that number is atrocious considering that all of the state’s other utilities combined had a total of 287 such violations during the same time period.

The complaint also cites nine other incidents in which customers were injured or killed.

Morales’ family, Feder said, suffered an incalculable loss that they want to shield others from experiencing.

"We want PG&E to change the way they do business," Feder said. "By bringing this lawsuit, we want to prevent another family from suffering a similar senseless tragedy."

PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles said he understands the motive behind the lawsuit and that the company supports the Morales family.

"Our heart goes out to her family, and we respect their right to file the lawsuit," Boyles said. "We will continue to work with them to address their concerns."

The complaint is scheduled to be heard on Feb. 24 at 9 a.m. in a coordinated hearing for several lawsuits filed against PG&E at the Superior Court of California Southern Branch Annex at 500 County Center in Redwood City.