As he submitted his May revision of the state budget, now mostly enacted, Gov. Jerry Brown won praise both for its relative stinginess and for the fact it included one addition aiming to ensure more attention to safety from big utilities regulated by the state’s Public Utilities Commission.
At almost the same moment, the PUC opened a reconsideration of its 2014 decision on distributing costs from the 2012 failure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, a ruling that previously dunned consumers more than 70 percent of the $4.7 billion cost for closing San Onofre.
And Brown signed a bill requiring extensive testing of wells at the Aliso Canyon storage facility maintained by the Southern California Gas Co. in northern Los Angeles before that site can reopen and once again produce large profits for the company.
And yet, all this is plainly too little and too late. Brown inflicted no penalties at all – not even a word of criticism – on his PUC appointees who repeatedly voted for the San Onofre ruling, even after the revelation that it was negotiated in a secret meeting between the PUC’s disgraced former president and an executive since departed from the Southern California Edison Co.
He said not a word about blackmailing lies from the PUC, the state Energy Commission and other state agencies which co-wrote an April study threatening electricity blackouts unless Aliso Canyon is reopened soon. Those falsehoods – exposed, even conceded during a May legislative hearing – have nevertheless been repeated often since.
Brown also punished no one at the state prison department after it admitted the falsehood of a longtime claim that serious criminals have never been sent to low-security firefighting camps.
There’s been more since then, even some direct Brown hypocrisy over shipping coal from Utah through Oakland to Asian markets. Turns out Brown, who famously told Pope Francis last spring that “90 percent of the coal” reserves worldwide “can never be taken out of the ground” because of climate change, has a financial interest in coal trains and ships.
“Oakland” magazine reported that public records show he owns a stake valued between $100,000 and $1 million in Evergreen Park Plaza LLC, a real estate venture that figures to profit if coal is exported through the former Oakland Army Base, where its parent company is the master developer. The parent firm is controlled by Brown’s friend Phil Tagami, who also hosted his 2005 wedding.
Then there’s the small matter of the PUC and Energy Commission quietly entering into a confidentiality agreement without any public hearings. Their pact would “ensure the nondisclosure of any inspection, investigation or enforcement-related confidential information shared between the (commissions).”
This deal was part of the consent calendar in the Energy Commission’s May 17 meeting, where it passed without comment. It aims to keep the public in the dark about new safety problems that might arise at utilities regulated by both powerful commissions.
This is all the very opposite of the transparency the governor promised in 2010 while campaigning to return to the office he held for eight years in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Plus, this spring Brown vetoed a bill requiring that persons trying to influence state procurement practices register as lobbyists. The Fair Political Practices Commission had already labeled this bill, possibly influencing billions of dollars in state spending, as a “significant burden” where there is no “significant problem.”
Brown echoed this in his veto statement, saying “I don’t believe this bill is necessary.”
But that bill just might have helped save his former chief of staff, Gray Davis, who later became governor, only to be undone in part by a procurement scandal in which the Oracle software company donated $25,000 to his campaign less than a day after getting a large state contract.
No one knows if a measure like this could have spared Davis all that trouble and humiliation and prevented Arnold Schwarzenegger from becoming governor.
What’s certain is that Brown’s administration is anything but open and transparent, with few, if any, consequences for corruption and lies, even when they are copiously documented. The small positive moves Brown made in May didn’t go nearly far enough to fix this problem and he has yet to speak his first words about much of what’s been happening on his watch.
Thomas D. Elias writes the syndicated California Focus column.