The State Worker

California PUC boosting Sacramento staff, aiming for better relations

California Public Utilities Commission needs reform, lawmaker says

On Monday, June 27, 2016, the day Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers announced a deal to overhaul the troubled California Public Utilities Commission, then-Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, explained why things need to change.
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On Monday, June 27, 2016, the day Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers announced a deal to overhaul the troubled California Public Utilities Commission, then-Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, explained why things need to change.

Facing tough scrutiny from lawmakers, the state’s energy regulator plans to ramp up its presence in Sacramento by filling out a new office on Capitol Mall with dozens of new workers.

The California Public Utilities Commission will keep its headquarters in San Francisco, where it houses about 800 employees who regulate the state’s largest power companies.

In Sacramento, it plans to hire or relocate employees for about 100 positions who will work in the new office. The commission has about 50 other employees in two other Sacramento offices that it will continue leasing, commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said.

Its president, Michael Picker, is already working at the new office.

The commission wanted to boost its footprint in the capital both to decentralize its operations and to improve its relationship with legislators and other California public agencies, Prosper said.

“We’ve seen throughout the Legislature wanting us to be more responsive,” she said. “This definitely gets us proximity. Proximity equals responsiveness and this give us a good opportunity to do that.”

About 100 of the commission’s employees work in Los Angeles.

State lawmakers have repeatedly grilled the commission over its policies since a 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno killed eight people. A federal jury in August found Pacific Gas & Electric guilty of obstructing investigators after the disaster.

More recently, its board members have been taken to task for ethical lapses that included traveling to foreign countries at the expense of a nonprofit closely tied to the companies they regulate.

In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed several bills designed to improve transparency at the commission. One of the laws compels commission members to quickly report their contacts with representatives from the energy industry.

Also that month, the state auditor’s office released a report that concluded the commission had failed to protect itself from “the appearance of improper influence.”

Prosper said moving more employees to Sacramento will help the commission collaborate with other state agencies on shared projects, such as work with California Air Resources Board to improve energy efficiencies.

The commission recently held a job fair in Sacramento. It is posting advertisements for new jobs on its website. The Sacramento staff is expected to include analysts, personnel specialists, engineers, IT professionals and a communications staff.

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton

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