We cannot help but wonder just what it will take for Gov. Jerry Brown to clean house at the California Public Utilities Commission.
If clear incompetence and negligence on basic safety issues don't do it -- and, so far, they haven't -- maybe a scathing report by a consulting firm hired by the PUC itself will do the trick.
Business Advantage Consulting of Folsom informs us that the serious problems in the organization extend far beyond commission President Michael Peevey, whom Brown should have removed years ago.
The report describes PUC Executive Director Paul Clanon as having an "anti-safety" attitude. Staff members say the culture established by the PUC's leadership is that when it comes to safety, utilities such as PG&E "don't have to comply -- they are not worried. The message to them is that we are not paying attention."
Wow! That is a pretty substantial criticism for any organization, but for a public oversight agency it is downright scary. It is the kind of culture that is directly responsible for the San Bruno tragedy that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in 2010.
The consultant's report says the PUC may be incapable of solving the problem. No kidding. The governor and Legislature need to act immediately. Imposing a safety-first culture will require changes in the appointed commission and in the staff.
Peevey's cozy relationship with PG&E is well known. The surprise from the report is the extent to which the attitude permeates the PUC. The consultant gives example after example. One staff member laments: "If we were enforcing the rules, we would not have to worry about a safety culture. If we were holding the utilities accountable and doing what we were supposed to be doing, San Bruno would never have happened."
This can't be dismissed as disgruntled staffers. It confirms too many earlier indications of failure since the San Bruno disaster.
Earlier this year the Legislative Analyst's Office found that the PUC for years has failed to complete basic audits of utilities' special accounts as required by law. In 2012, we learned the PUC had gone a decade without fining PG&E for any pipeline safety lapses. In 2011, a blue-ribbon panel on the San Bruno explosion demanded that the PUC and PG&E "confront and change elements of their respective cultures to assure the citizens of California that public safety is their foremost priority."
Even so, the new report is shocking. What's the point of public oversight if not to protect people?
We began calling for Peevey's removal in 2011. The reasons have only compounded since. But now it's clear a broader change in leadership is necessary. If Brown doesn't act, the Legislature has to take away Peevey's sweeping authority to control PUC operations.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, who represents San Bruno, has been on top of this from the start and should now have every lawmaker's ear. We hope he will use it to drive significant and much-needed change at the PUC.