Three years after the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion, tensions between San Bruno city leaders and the California Public Utilities Commission remain high. For the first time, city officials reveal details of a Dec. 18, 2012 encounter with CPUC President Michael Peevey that sheds new light on the ongoing conflict between the city and the man in charge of the utility regulator.
City leaders said the incident started during a meeting they requested with Peevey ahead of the commission’s approval of the PG&E pipeline safety plan.
“We walked in and we sat down and the first thing he says to me is, ‘This is your meeting. You called it. What do you want?’” San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane said. “The tone was arrogance. I was a little surprised.”
Ruane said he told Peevey he wanted to discuss the commission’s upcoming vote, but that the president quickly interrupted him.
“[Peevey] stopped me right there and said ‘what you did in front of my building was bulls--t,’”Ruane said. “I was taken aback.”
Peevey was referring to a news conference San Bruno city leaders held on the steps of the CPUC building in San Francisco two months earlier to discuss the restructuring of the agency. When asked what he took away from Peevey’s behavior, Ruane said it was “shocking” and “embarrassing” and that it reinforced what he perceived to be arrogance on Peevey’s part.
“Mr. Peevey displayed a level of behavior that I have never before witnessed in my 30 plus years of public service,” said San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson. “Mr. Peevey’s behavior was highly unprofessional and inappropriate.”
The City of San Bruno and the Public Utilities Commission have had a contentious relationship since the Sept. 9, 2010 explosion that killed eight people, injured 66, and leveled an entire neighborhood. Last October, several San Bruno residents called for Peevey’s removal.
“It is really clear Mr. Peevey has an interest in the utility companies’ interests rather than the public,” Rene Morales said during a press conference last October. “That’s why we’re coming forward now.”
Morales’ 20-year-old daughter Jessica died in the blast.
Around the same time, San Bruno resident Kathy DeRenzi started an online petition calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to fire the president of the commission.
“He is not doing his job,” DeRenzi said in an interview with NBC Bay Area last spring. “We need the governor to change the head of the PUC so we can feel safe.”
On Oct. 23, 2012, the City of San Bruno unanimously passed a resolution calling for Peevey’s ouster. San Bruno leaders and residents have called multiple news conferences on the steps of the CPUC building since the explosion, questioning the president’s leadership. Those tactics have apparently ruffled Peevey’s feathers and led to the use of what city leaders describe as choice words during that closed-door meeting last December.
Ruane said he didn’t expect Peevey to use such harsh language when addressing “an elected mayor representing the people of a city that had been devastated.”
Jackson said it appeared as if Peevey let his emotions overcome his sensibilities and that the behavior crossed the line.
During the three years since the explosion, the mayor and city manager have identified failures within the commission—and more questionable behavior by its president—and detailed them in a five-page memo to the Investigative Unit. Jackson said the list proves there needs to be “fundamental reform of the CPUC” and that “it is not focused on safety and that change is desperately needed for ratepayers and residents of California.”
When asked if Peevey owes him — and San Bruno residents — an apology, Ruane said, “That’s Mr. Peevey’s call. With the arrogance that’s there, I would really question the sincerity of an apology.”
Multiple requests to speak with Peevey have been declined. Through a spokesman the CPUC issued a statement saying the meeting was nearly a year ago and that “the San Bruno-related cases are now in the hands of the Administrative Law Judges for their proposed resolution.” Meanwhile, city leaders said they have yet to receive a response from Gov. Brown about their call for Peevey’s removal.
Watch the story about a confidential document exposing serious problems at CPUC
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