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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
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San Bruno Explodes – at Public Utilities Agency

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The California Public Utilities Commission claims it is too busy to release public records on the disastrous San Bruno gas line explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 38 houses, but the city of San Bruno isn't buying it.

The city sued the PUC in Superior Court, claiming the state agency blew off its public records request, claiming it was "very busy" and would respond "when it had free time."

"This response makes a mockery of the value of public participation within its own government," the city says.

The explosion and fire in September 2010 "injured dozens, and caused immense property damage," the city claims. It took Pacific Gas & Electric Co. company more than an hour to shut off the gas after the explosion, which registered as a 1.1 earthquake on the Richter scale, according to contemporary newspaper reports.

The city says its requests "encompass 17 categories of documents, such as communications and records regarding citations, fines, and pending motions against PG&E. These requests go directly to the issue of the PUC's oversight of PG&E."

The complaint claims some of the documents that the PUC failed to disclose are email communications between it and PG&E that show its "continued cozy relationship with PG&E and its lax oversight over the public utility company the PUC is - by constitutional mandate - required to regulate."

Other documents not disclosed concern citations that the city says "will provide further evidence of the PUC's mismanagement in its lax oversight of PG&E and public utilities in general."

The PUC failed to respond to the city's requests within 10 days as required.

In some categories, the agency failed to reply at all or "the response was a partial disclosure of documents, claiming the remaining documents were forthcoming (which was never the case). In response to some categories, the PUC asserted the deliberative process privilege to shield disclosure of documents that would embarrass the agency and/or show the PUC violated their own rules." (Parentheses in complaint.)

San Bruno claims the agency referred it to a number of websites despite knowing the websites were "inoperative and did not contain the requested documents."

In San Bruno's final request for a response, the PUC said "that it was 'very busy' and would respond when it had free time. This response makes a mockery of the value of public participation within its own government. It is not a valid excuse to delay or obstruct disclosure of public records."

San Bruno says the National Transportation and Safety Board investigated the event and found "that the PUC systematically failed to detect the inadequacies of PG&E's pipeline management program, which included providing PG&E with exemptions from regulatory requirements to pressure test its pipelines."

The city wants to "do everything possible to prevent another pipeline disaster like the one witnessed in September 2010."

The city seeks writ of mandate compelling the Public Utilities Commission to disclose the records. It is represented by its city attorney, Marc Zafferano.

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