Earlier this year, PG&E angered consumers when it spent more than $44 million on a statewide ballot measure that sought to prevent cities and counties from jumping into the public power market and increasing their renewable energy use. PG&E was worried about losing market share, but it appears that the company should have been more concerned about its aging underground natural-gas pipelines. Last week, a gas line the utility had already identified as needing to be replaced exploded into a massive fireball, destroying a San Bruno neighborhood and killing at least four people.
The Los Angeles Times reported that PG&E had disclosed to state regulators before the blast that it planned to spend $5 million replacing the pipeline that blew up because it posed a danger to the public. The utility said "the likelihood of a failure makes the risk of a failure at this location unacceptably high." PG&E, in fact, had disclosed that the pipeline was one of the riskiest in California.
After the blast, regulators ordered PG&E to inspect all 5,000 miles of its California natural-gas pipelines. The California Public Utilities Commission also ordered PG&E to disclose how much money it has spent on gas-line maintenance and repair since 2005.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that PG&E is certainly no stranger to deadly gas-line explosions. At least eighteen people have died since 1986 in blasts involving the utility's pipelines.
The utility also notified regulators before the San Bruno pipeline explosion that it was not the most dangerous in its arsenal. In fact, PG&E says two East Bay lines — one that connects Livermore to Sunol and another in Fremont — are in much worse shape than the San Bruno line. PG&E told regulators that it needs to spend $48.5 million replacing those two lines.
As of Monday afternoon, the toll from the massive San Bruno explosion stood at four, but it was expected to rise as four people remained missing and the San Mateo County Coroner's Office worked to identify skeletal remains found at the blast site. The National Transportation Safety Board had taken over as lead investigator in the case, packing up a large section of exploded pipe and sending it to Washington, DC for analysis. The probe is expected to take twelve to fourteen months.
In another victory for gay rights, a California federal judge ruled last week that the military's "don't ask, don't tell," policy violates the US Constitution. Federal Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that the controversial policy, which prohibits openly gay people from serving in the armed forces, infringes on their First Amendment right to free speech and their Fifth Amendment guarantee of substantive due process. The Obama Justice Department is expected to appeal the ruling.
A purported "independent" investigation by San Francisco cops of the Johannes Mehserle verdict protests concluded that Oakland Councilwomen Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan interfered with police officers during the demonstrations, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Oakland police had asked San Francisco to look into the matter and the case was forwarded to the Alameda County District Attorney's Office. However, no charges are expected to be filed against the councilwomen, who maintain that they did nothing wrong. San Francisco cops also appear to have issues with bias in the case, because their police union helped finance hit-piece mailers earlier this year that attacked Quan and Kaplan for their stances on Oakland cop pensions.
Sierra Club Backs Kaplan
And Kaplan's mayoral campaign got a boost when the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter, the most influential environmental group in the East Bay, endorsed her candidacy. "Kaplan has a strong record of success promoting sustainable development and environmental policies," the club said in a statement. "She is a longtime champion of transit oriented development and livable communities."
In a nod to ranked-choice voting, the new voting system to be used in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro this November, the Sierra Club endorsed Quan as its second choice for mayor, said chapter chair Kent Lewandowski. The club's third choice is ex-state Senator Don Perata.
The Alameda County DA decided to not seek criminal charges against Alameda Councilwoman Lena Tam, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove that she leaked confidential information to SunCal, the former developer of Alameda Point. The Alameda City Council also voted to drop its probe. ... BART's costly tramway to Oakland airport received $20 million in state funds last week from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The money will partially replace $70 million in stimulus funding withheld by federal officials after they found that BART had committed civil rights violations. ... The California Supreme Court upheld an appellate court ruling that said Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger don't have to defend Proposition 8 in court. The decision increased the possibility that California's anti-gay-marriage law may be overturned on a technicality. ... Oakland A's co-owner Lew Wolff hired an architect to design a San Jose baseball park even though Major League Baseball has not approved the team's planned move to the South Bay. ... And the Bay Area's first toll lane was scheduled to open this week in the East Bay, along I 680 between Sunol and Fremont. It allows solo drivers to buy their way into carpool lanes during commute hours.