Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown rejects changes to California Public Utilities Commission

Michael Peevey, former president of the Public Utilities Commision, at a Senate Rules Committee hearing on Dec. 16, 2009.
Michael Peevey, former president of the Public Utilities Commision, at a Senate Rules Committee hearing on Dec. 16, 2009. Sacramento Bee file

A broad legislative effort targeting the California Public Utilities Commission ended in defeat Friday when Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed six bills aimed at increasing transparency and public access to the scandal-ridden agency.

The measures, all of which were unanimously approved by the Legislature, would have appointed an inspector general within the State Auditor’s Office to oversee the commission, limited back-channel communications between commissioners and the utilities they regulate, made it easier to bring open meetings or public record lawsuits against the commission, and required legislative review if they hire outside counsel for a criminal investigation, among other changes.

In his veto messages, Brown said he supported many of the policies, but questioned whether they could be carried out.

“Taken together there are various technical and conflicting issues that make the over fifty proposed reforms unworkable,” he wrote. “Some prudent prioritization is needed.”

“I am directing my office to work with the authors on drafting these reforms and to ensure the Commission receives the necessary resources to implement them swiftly and effectively,” he added.

The Public Utilities Commission has come under increasing legislative scrutiny after the release of e-mails last year revealing secret dealings between former President Michael Peevey and PG&E following a 2010 gas line explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people. The state attorney general and U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco have both opened investigations into the matter.

Peevey stepped down last December after 12 years, and Brown has continued to stand by him, even after authorities seized computers and other items from Peevey’s home earlier this year.

Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, who authored three of the bills, said in a statement that he was disappointed by Brown’s vetoes.

“We need to rebuild the public’s trust in their government,” the Lakewood Democrat said. “Each and every day dysfunction continues at the CPUC, that trust erodes.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

Related stories from Sacramento Bee