One New CPUC Commissioner Has Already Begun Reform

Special to the Bee
The opinion piece by Mike Montgomery needs a reality check (“In reforming the PUC, Brown should replace commissioners”; Forum, Oct. 16).
Yes, Montgomery and friends at CALinnovates, the private sector has a deep interest in how regulators perform their essential function, and you might like to name a few more of your own to the California Public Utilities Commission.

But we need to remember that consumers and the wider public interest must also be at the table. Groups like TURN (The Utility Reform Network), the Greenlining Institute, Media Alliance and others provide a necessary voice for the social contract upon which utility network operators build, and these voices must be heard.
While providing a laudable critique of past commissions and a worthy outline of reforms, the proposal to toss out the PUC’s reform-minded commissioners contradicts the argument.

Coming out of previous administrations, regulatory capture was nearly complete with utility executives and their minions firmly in control. But since Gov. Jerry Brown started naming new commissioners with public interest backgrounds, reform has been in the wind. And truly, the breakdown of past corruption requires a deep clean.

I am most familiar with the work of Commissioner Catherine Sandoval, who is clearly the telecommunications expert on the PUC. Up in Eureka, we have gotten to know Sandoval precisely because she has put reform into action – convening numerous meetings, consultations, investigations and proceedings in remote and rural communities statewide, including the North Coast region.

Sandoval’s expert vision also focuses on the nexus between utilities – telecom/energy, energy/water, telecom/water and how public policy can leverage public investments across the utility landscape.

Sandoval’s work in developing deeper understanding of challenges for native tribes – including Yurok, Hoopa Valley, Karuk and Wiyot tribes in Humboldt County – has been exemplary of the very best we could hope for in a reformed regulator.

So the call for replacing the reformers on the PUC in order to advance reform is simply ludicrous. If you want transparent, accountable regulation made by informed ethical regulators, Sandoval is a star performer and California is lucky to have her service.

Sean Taketa McLaughlin is executive director of Access Humboldt based in Eureka, and a board member for the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition based in Washington, D.C. Contact him at

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