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Putting the "Public" back into the CPUC

Senate bill could change the way utilities commission operates

State senator Jerry Hill, a Democrat of San Mateo, has introduced a bill that would require the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to conform to state open-meeting laws. The roots of this proposed bill are in San Diego.

In March of last year, the commission held a closed-door, invite-only meeting at the Seaside La Jolla Forum. San Diego attorney Maria Severson, on behalf of a client, filed a case in Superior Court, challenging the closed meeting.

The Superior Court said it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. The Court of Appeals agreed. Now the case is pending before the Supreme Court of California. Severson argues that the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act should apply to the CPUC.

"The [California] Constitution guarantees that meetings of state bodies, including the [CPUC], be held open to the public," the suit argues. "The Public Utilities Code does not give the [CPUC] the authority to operate in violation of the Cailifornia Constitution and conduct its business outside public view."

The Superior Court suit named Michael Peevey, the former lobbyist for and president of Southern California Edison, who now heads the CPUC, as the defendant.

For almost a dozen years, Peevey has used an obscure legal loophole to evade any challenge to closed meetings of the CPUC, says Severson. Peevey has routinely held private meetings with top utility executives to set energy prices and profits — one reason California utility rates are the highest in the continental United States. Hill's bill would address this problem, too.

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State senator Jerry Hill, a Democrat of San Mateo, has introduced a bill that would require the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to conform to state open-meeting laws. The roots of this proposed bill are in San Diego.

In March of last year, the commission held a closed-door, invite-only meeting at the Seaside La Jolla Forum. San Diego attorney Maria Severson, on behalf of a client, filed a case in Superior Court, challenging the closed meeting.

The Superior Court said it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. The Court of Appeals agreed. Now the case is pending before the Supreme Court of California. Severson argues that the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act should apply to the CPUC.

"The [California] Constitution guarantees that meetings of state bodies, including the [CPUC], be held open to the public," the suit argues. "The Public Utilities Code does not give the [CPUC] the authority to operate in violation of the Cailifornia Constitution and conduct its business outside public view."

The Superior Court suit named Michael Peevey, the former lobbyist for and president of Southern California Edison, who now heads the CPUC, as the defendant.

For almost a dozen years, Peevey has used an obscure legal loophole to evade any challenge to closed meetings of the CPUC, says Severson. Peevey has routinely held private meetings with top utility executives to set energy prices and profits — one reason California utility rates are the highest in the continental United States. Hill's bill would address this problem, too.

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Comments
18

How do we get a petition together in support of this bill?

Aug. 26, 2014

Dennis: I will ask Maria Severson about that. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 26, 2014

Try reading this: Public Utilities Code, Section 306(b) http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=puc&group=00001-01000&file=301-327
and this: the Government Code, Title 2, Division 3, Part1, Chapter 1, Article 9, Section 11120 http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=gov&group=11001-12000&file=11120-11132

Aug. 26, 2014

Dan Fogel: The public utilities code says meetings will be open and public. There may be some exceptions in there that I haven't come to yet. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 26, 2014

So presumably this bill -- what's the number? -- won't be part of this week's end-of-session wheeling and dealing? Couldn't it be tacked onto some unrelated measure and voted in at midnight like so many other zombie deals? Young-pro ex-assemblyman Nathan Fletcher (GOP/Dem) was skilled in sub-rosa stuff. Couldn't his admirer Dem. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez pick up the baton?

Aug. 27, 2014

Lorena doesn't have the time--she's too busy taking pictures.

Aug. 27, 2014

aardvark: But it's so easy to take pictures these days. In any case, as above, it's doubtful Hill's bill, SB115, will be heard this session. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 27, 2014

monaghan: The number is SB 115. Hill's assistants aren't sure it will be heard in this session, which is almost over. "We may be running out time," he says. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 27, 2014

If this bill is SB115, it certainly will not be heard this session. It was originally read into the record on January 16, 2013, so it's been thru 2 complete sessions. It left the Senate last year and was read in to the Assembly almost a year and a half ago. It was referred back to the rules committee last Friday after being amended again. It seems to be going nowhere fast. Personally, I am thinking that Peevey is not coming back, so maybe things will begin to improve.

Aug. 27, 2014

danfogel: I certainly hope you are right that Peevey is not coming back. But even if he doesn't come back, it is imperative that CPUC meetings must be open. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 27, 2014

A major step in the right direction, since the CPUC now has far too much power to be operating behind closed doors as the recent history of ever higher rates and/or too cozy relationships with the Utilities the CPUC is mandated to regulate.

Gov. Brown needs to put his personal friendships aside and clean up the CPUC or admit that his Office is part of the CPUC problem now facing far too many Californians who are being over charged for their energy because of pro-Utility rate decisions!

Aug. 27, 2014

Founder: Gov. Brown is a close personal friend of Peevey. But he is also a shrewd politician. Shrewd politicians put politics before friendships. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 27, 2014

don bauder, there is also another possibility that many seem to be overlooking. That Brown will win is a given, imo. He'll win in a walk. He'll be 80 when he leaves office, so this is it, a long, slow ride into the sunset. He won't ever hold another meaningful office; no campaign for the state house, no Congressional bid, no mayoral office. That means he can pretty much do what he wants, within the laws and the scope of his power of course. But any choices he has, any decisions he makes, he can make them however he wants, without fear of political consequences. It's done all the time. POTUS is doing it right now. Because he will be termed out, he will in essence be a lame duck governor once he takes the oath of office, not facing the consequences of his actions in the next election, and giving him greater freedom to issue unpopular decisions or appointments. Hopefully, he will make those decisions for the good of the people because that's what he wants to do, but who knows. Maybe he'll put friendship ahead of politics, because he can, or maybe he'll do what he wants to, in spite of friendship, because he can. As I have said before, I don't think Peevey will be back; whether it be by his choice or not probably makes no difference. I believe that Peevey's wife is termed out, having first been elected to the state senate in 2008. That means she's done after 2016. Another term would put Peevey in place until 2020. I just don't see it. Of course I have been wrong a time or two, so I guess we'll have to wait a few months to see.

Aug. 28, 2014

danfogel: Yours is a logical argument that Peevey will step down at the end of his term. I hope you are right. i fear you may be wrong, just as you fear the same thing. Peevey's mind is scrambled; we can't expect him to be logical in the decision-making process. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 28, 2014

Martha Sullivan: The CPUC has too much power and wields it on behalf of the utilities, not the public. Mia Severson and others working for reform must be congratulated -- I agree. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 27, 2014

San Diego Highwayman: Under Peevey, the CPUC is all for utility profits and doesn't give a damn for consumers. That's why Wall Street loves the CPUC as it is now constituted. California utilities are permitted to do better financially than are utilities in other states. Why do you think Sempra is probably the most expensive utility stock in the bunch? It's benefiting from pro-profits, anti-ratepayer regulation. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 27, 2014

The PUC has not done a thing for the public in years. Their mission is to line their pockets, peddle influence and protect the profits of public utilities. We need people on the commission who have the best interests of the public in mind.

Aug. 28, 2014

AlexClarke: Amen. Northern California newspapers are calling for Peevey's head. So are enlightened San Diegans. The CPUC's main interest is keeping utilities' profits higher than those in other states. Best, Don Bauder

Aug. 31, 2014

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