Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown approves changes to Public Utilities Commission, pushes for more action

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the Association of California Water Agencies conference, in Sacramento.
Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the Association of California Water Agencies conference, in Sacramento. AP

Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday approved legislation to improve governance and transparency at the California Public Utilities Commission, and implored the regulator to make further changes that fell short in the Legislature.

The legislation will expand public access to commission records and require the commission to hold its sessions at least once each month. Apart from the bills, Brown urged the commission to undertake other tasks, ranging from appointing an ethics ombudsman, more quickly releasing information to the public and increasing the commission’s presence outside of San Francisco. He said those priorities cannot wait another year for lawmakers to act.

“Together, these administrative reforms and legislative acts will bring much needed improvement to the commission,” he wrote in a signing message.

Brown, who in the past had resisted changes, also pledged to work with the commission on a series of more far-reaching structural changes, including unloading transportation responsibilities to departments within the California Transportation Agency.

The governor and lawmakers in June announced an accord to overhaul aspects of the regulator that have come under increased scrutiny. One of the most sweeping elements of the plan called for stripping enforcement authority over ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft.

Some of the alterations being advanced were part of Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s AB 2903 that stalled in the final hours of the session. Gatto pushed a constitutional amendment to dissolve the body before striking the deal with Brown.

The commission in recent years has been beset by problems, prompting harsh rebukes in the Legislature, but largely followed by thwarted efforts at reform. Criticism has run from its response to a large gas leak in Southern California to the removal of its former leader after revelations of back-channel dealings related to a deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion.

A scathing audit last week found the regulator has exerted lax control over its own spending, failed to disclose public records and allowed its board members to travel at the expense of a nonprofit organization with close ties to the companies it monitors.

Brown said in his announcement Thursday that he would continue to work with the Legislature on issues that remain unaddressed, including subjecting the commission to judicial review provisions of the state Public Records Act.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago