It is about time, isn't it?

The members of the San Diego City Council appear to have power under the Electric Franchise (city ordinance 10466 of 1970) to review the actions of the franchise grantee for illegalities. According to the franchise ordinance, all franchise terms are to be strictly interpreted in favor of the city as granter and not in favor of grantee, and the council's ability to review grantee illegal behavior is contained in section six of the ordinance. Under section six, the electric franchise grantee shall construct, maintain, use or remove its franchised facilities in accordance with all rules and regulations under the law.

The franchise grantee is San Diego Gas and Electric Company, also known as a Sempra Energy entity by the acronym SDG&E.

In July 2007, SDG&E was convicted of several charges relating to the removal of its Encanto Gas Holder facility in Lemon Grove. According to Melanie Pierson, the lead federal prosecutor in the federal environmental crimes matter United States of America v. SDG&E, “The jury got it right”, but strained interpretations of federal evidence rules advocated by clever SDG&E corporate lawyers did allow SDG&E to have key bulk sample analysis reports of released asbestos fibers tossed out before new trial.

Part of that evidence, first obtained by SDG&E or its contractors, showed that samples tested at levels of up to 50-60% friable asbestos, cited by the District Court in its December 2007 order for new trial. Under the Clean Air Act's National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) section 7412 of United State Code Title 42, the maximum allowed level of friable asbestos allowed is only 1%.

Under NESHAP, a section 7412 enforcement action must use more stringent state standards such as the 0.1% asbestos content standard for medium and large projects in section 341.6 of California Code of Regulations Title 8. During the federal trial, at least one SDG&E contractor's worker testified that he worked without protective gear to pick up chunks of asbestos-containing debris at the Lemon Grove site by hand. The asbestos dust and debris was created by using a high-speed pipe stripping machine, and no proper containment was used by SDG&E or its contractors to prevent asbestos releases into San Diego and Lemon Grove.

None of the workers at the Encanto Gas Holder site were alerted to the fact that at least three separate groups of SDG&E or SDG&E contractor samples were tested at up to several hundred times greater than the 0.1% state asbestos standard. The more stringent Title 8 standards legally applied to stripping hundreds of 30-inch diameter pipe sections of their asbestos-containing coatings.

To date, council members have not moved to review SDG&E actions under the franchise ordinance.

No city attorney investigations have been announced regarding the evidence in United States of America v. SDG&E, nor of SDG&E fines paid to the California Public Utilities Commission regarding facts withheld during SDG&E's application for the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line or for SDG&E investigatory obstruction during its testimony to CPUC regarding the 2007 wildfires.

So far, there has been no city council statement regarding SDG&E's application to funnel future wildfire-related legal expenses into a wildfire expense balancing account (WEBA). Once those legal fees are in that account, ordinary SDG&E ratepayers are liable for anything that is not covered by SDG&E wildfire insurance policies.

If the city council members have received too many SDG&E or other Sempra Energy-related campaign donations to be effective regarding illegal behaviors by the franchise grantee, then franchise ordinance section 17 does allow for San Diego voters to take matters into their own hands for their own protection.

Sempra Energy announced earlier this week that long-time SDG&E president Debra Reed was re-assigned as a Sempra Energy vice president and shipped out of town. Readers of the Reader are free to decide for themselves if this title-wise demotion was related to any of SDG&E's franchise activities described above.

2009 CPUC Division of Ratepayer Advocate data request regarding 2007 NESHAP criminal trial


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