Capitol Alert

Court spurns effort on Brown’s alleged San Onofre communications

In this June 30, 2011, file photo, beach-goers walk on the sand near the San Onofre nuclear power plant in San Clemente, Calif. The plant was shut down in 2012.
In this June 30, 2011, file photo, beach-goers walk on the sand near the San Onofre nuclear power plant in San Clemente, Calif. The plant was shut down in 2012. AP

A state appellate court late Wednesday turned back efforts by San Diego attorney Michael Aguirre to obtain communications he says may have occurred between Gov. Jerry Brown and the Public Utilities Commission relating to the closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant.

The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled that a Superior Court judge erred in ordering the PUC to disclose emails and other communications preceding the decision to have ratepayers, rather than Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric, shoulder most of the plant’s multi-billion-dollar shutdown costs.

Everyone concedes that a deal for dividing shutdown costs, placing $3.3 billion on ratepayers, was made during a private meeting between Michael Peevey, then the PUC president, and a SoCal Edison executive in a Warsaw hotel.

The full PUC later ratified the deal but when the private meeting was disclosed, Peevey, a former SoCal Edison executive himself, resigned from the PUC and eventually, the agency reopened the case.

Aquirre, who wants a new allocation of shutdown costs, also wants to know whether Brown was involved in the Warsaw deal. He sought access to his communications with Peevey and others at the agency. Brown’s office has denied that there’s anything to be found. The PUC has maintained that the emails did not involve the San Onofre settlement and that Brown himself did not send or receive the communications.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith sided with Aguirre, a former San Diego city attorney, but the PUC appealed, saying that the communications are part of a rate case and therefore under state utility law a Superior Court judge lacks jurisdiction.

The appellate court agreed with the PUC on that point, without delving into the underlying issue, and said Aguirre should seek the documents from the PUC under the Public Records Act, and then if rebuffed take his case to the appellate courts.

Aquirre said he will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

“The court failed to obey the constitutional requirement to interpret the laws in favor of public disclosure,” he said after the ruling. “The decision protects the Brown administration's concealment of records related to the unlawful scheme to make utility customers pay $3 billion for the failed San Onofre plant. This is a sad day for a distinguished appellate court.”

The San Onofre cost decision and other cases led to demands among legislators for reform of the PUC and Brown signed off on a package of changes for the agency, but the chief PUC bill died as the Legislature wound up its biennial session Wednesday night, just hours after the appellate decision was released.

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