SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge on Tuesday refused to sign off on a $3 million deal that would excuse Pacific Gas and Electric from completing more than 2,000 community service hours as part of its criminal sentence for violations related to the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.
San Bruno City Manager Jovan Grogan asked Alsup to approve a deal in which PG&E would pay the city $3 million to fund a fire mitigation project in Crestmoor Canyon in lieu of its remaining community service hours.
"This has been a significant fire risk for years," Grogan said. "We haven't been able to go into the canyon and take out the fallen limbs."
Alsup said he was worried the money might fall short of what's needed because the city did not provide a detailed plan for the project, including a timeline and a list of contractors willing to do the work.
"My biggest concern is the money will be squandered on consultants and lawyers, and the true victims will go uncompensated," Alsup said.
Alsup postponed deciding whether to approve the request until after the Nov. 5 election, at which time San Bruno residents will vote on a proposed 0.5% sales tax increase that would add about $4 million annually to the city budget, money that could help fund the project.
Alsup scheduled a follow-up hearing for Nov. 12 and asked the city to provide a more detailed plan for its fire mitigation project at that time.
If approved, a federal bankruptcy court would also have to sign off on the $3 million deal.
PG&E was ordered to perform 10,000 community service hours in 2017 as part of its criminal sentence for felony violations related to the fatal 2010 San Bruno gas line explosion, which killed eight people, injured 58 and destroyed 38 homes.
Of the 10,000 community service hours, 2,000 were supposed to be performed by high-level PG&E executives by 2022. A PG&E spokesperson said high-level personnel have completed 2,331 hours of community service and more than 7,300 total volunteer hours have been done.
Also on Tuesday, PG&E lawyer Reid Schar told Alsup the company it is preparing to cut power to at least 800,000 customers in 30 Northern California counties in response to major fire risks posed by expected dry and strong winds this week.
Alsup said he is "glad" PG&E is making those important decisions to prevent potentially deadly and catastrophic fires like the ones that occurred in 2017 and 2018.
"The day should come when PG&E has a system that is safe enough to operate 100% of the time, but because of the problems you know about, PG&E is not there yet.," Alsup said.
Following a six-week trial in the summer of 2016, PG&E was sentenced in January 2017 and ordered to pay the maximum statutory fine of $3 million and to advertise its conviction on five counts of Pipeline Safety Act violations and one count of obstructing an investigation into the cause of the San Bruno pipeline explosion.
This year, Alsup ordered PG&E to comply with all fire prevention laws and meet specific targets outlined in its wildfire mitigation plan after it was found to have violated its probation by failing to tell a probation officer of a wildfire-related settlement with Butte County. Alsup also expanded the role of a court-appointed monitor to oversee PG&E's wildfire prevention work and compliance.
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