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Corruption and the PUC

Redistricting Finalized

At their special meeting on Thursday, Nov. 18, the Board of Supervisors unanimously put the final wrap on adjusting voting district populations and boundaries as required by federal law.

Since summer a five-member Advisory Redistricting Commission appointed by the Board of Supervisors, has been meeting and holding remote teleconference meetings with the goal of using 2020 Census data to ensure the principle of “one person, one vote.”

The Supes approved a map recommended by the Commission that featured:

• Resettling Hopland from the coastal 5th District of Supervisor Ted Williams to Supe Glenn McGourty’s inland, agricultural 1st District. Think of this as a friendly divorce requested by Hopland residents that results in making the sprawling 5th District a bit more compact.

• The town of Mendocino, where Williams lives, remains in the 5th District much to the satisfaction of its residents who resisted an initial proposal to relocate it to Supe Dan Gjerde’s mostly coastal 4th District, which includes Fort Bragg as its anchor.

• Without a doubt the most controversial decision involved the inland 3rd District of Supe John Haschak. The main problem with the 3rd District is a numbers game, albeit a legal numbers game. The federal 10 percent disparity rule (which requires the population difference between the largest and smallest districts be less than 10 percent) came into play as the population of the 3rd exceeded the 4th’s by 14 percent. So even though a goal of redistricting is to recognize and as much as possible maintain so-called “communities of interest,” which are defined as groups of people who live in a common geographical area and share common political, social or economic interests, it didn’t prevent splitting off part of the Spyrock community and all of Bell Springs from Laytonville. Both communities were moved into the 4th District.

By the way, as noted — ironically — by Gjerde, long-time former 3rd District Supervisor Johnny Pinches, who lives on Bell Springs Road, will soon be an official 4th District resident.

Abolish The CPUC?

Here’s an idea whose time hopefully will never come.

An L.A. county resident, Adolfo Ramos, has filed a proposed initiative, that if it qualifies for the ballot and then is approved by voters, would abolish in its entirety the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) by amending the state’s Constitution.

Ramos cites catastrophic and deadly wildfires caused by PG&E and other electric utilities, power shutoffs, ever increasing utility bills, and a corrupt, dysfunctional PUC.

All of the charges are accurate but the answer is not to deep-six the People’s Commission that was created over a hundred years ago in California’s famous Progressive Era.

What needs to be done is reform the PUC and eliminate all of the interference and corruption emanating from politicians, special interest groups, and the electrical monopolies.

Recently, Sacramento’s ABC News 10, which does some of the best political investigative coverage on what’s happening in the state Capitol, (yes, a mainstream media outlet that actually does a good job) reported:

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office exerted control over a powerful state agency that is supposed to operate independently, “micromanaging” decisions big and small at the California Public Utilities Commission according to its former executive director.

“We do whatever the governor tells us to do, period,” former CPUC executive director Alice Stebbins said. “You don’t do anything without staff reviewing it or talking to you or approving it. And that’s the way it was.”

Internal CPUC documents obtained by ABC10 reveal the agency took direction from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and even submitted its work to the governor’s staff for multiple levels of “approval.”

The records show that on at least one occasion, the need to secure approval from Newsom’s office delayed CPUC business for a matter of days, frustrating the agency’s employees.

The documents were obtained as part of the station’s investigation, which examines how the state government under Gov. Newsom responded to PG&E’s crimes by offering the company financial protection.

The evidence of the governor’s office inserting itself into relatively small details of the CPUC’s business raises questions about how much control the governor exerted on bigger issues, like the PG&E crisis.

Article XII of California’s constitution makes it clear that the CPUC, which sets tens of billions of dollars in rates paid by California utility customers, does not serve at the pleasure of the governor.

“It’s absolutely in violation of the state constitution,” said Mike Aguirre, a former San Diego city attorney who has repeatedly opposed the CPUC. “Would you want judges before they make their decisions to run it by the governor’s office to see if it was okay?”

Gov. Newsom does not have the authority to fire CPUC commissioners. That can only be done by a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the legislature, a higher standard than it takes to impeach a judge.

Stebbins said that under Newsom, the governor’s office insisted on being in charge of CPUC business, “especially anything with PG&E, anything with the bankruptcy.”

After PG&E committed the felony manslaughter of 84 people by starting the 2018 Camp Fire through criminally reckless operation of its power grid, the CPUC played a key role in approving PG&E’s plan to exit bankruptcy and waived a $200 million fine for PG&E’s safety violations.

In previous interviews Stebbins apologized for her role in facilitating those decisions, which were made by the CPUC’s five voting commissioners.

Gov. Newsom and CPUC President Marybel Batjer both declined repeated requests to be interviewed.

Batjer did not respond at all. Newsom’s response ignored every question related to the independence of the CPUC.

“It’s not just that it’s unethical. It’s not just that it’s not honest. It’s that it is cumbersome and just doesn’t produce good policy,” Aguirre said.

Aguirre, who frequently argues that the CPUC is corrupted by improper political influence, was surprised to see such low-level “micromanaging” of the agency by Gov. Newsom’s staff.

Stebbins, who is in the middle of a legal battle alleging wrongful termination by the CPUC, says Gov. Newsom’s office went further than making the CPUC get approval when it came to some of the agency’s most important decisions.

“When it came to PG&E,” Stebbins said. “It was a different kind of involvement. It wasn’t the same. It was more of a direction.”

So you see, the solution is not to abolish the PUC, the answer is to abolish the political interference and improper, if not illegal, influence corrupting the People’s Commission.

A Workable Logging Plan

Speaking of PG&E, here’s a suggestion by Laytonville’s Robin Thomposon, a professional lumber grader, regarding what can be done with some of the trees being removed around the utility’s overhead infrastructure. Thompson sent his recommendation to 3rd District Supervisor John Haschak.

Hi John, 

A concerted effort could have been made — by county administration, working with PG&E — to save all the merchantable softwood timber during the PG&E line clearing. Homeowners could then be paid stumpage at the mill, same as any timberland owner. Truckers & local mills would have benefitted. The whole program would have been more palatable to all that way... I had a gorgeous, long, commercially valuable fir log that I had to ask 4 different crew chiefs to leave alone. I come back, it's been cut up: a 7' here, a 5' there, meaningless, ruinous short lengths! Does PG&E run this county or do we? Micro-millers had no chance to work or cooperate with PG&E. Softwood timbers, they could have produced, are quite valuable. Softwood plants from here to the border would lick their chops over all the gorgeous, mature & “grandfather” material that COULD HAVE BEEN AVAILABLE with a little fore thought, planning & implementation. Please forward this to your colleagues. 

 (Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher,, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live:

One Comment

  1. sis martin November 26, 2021

    Great to read Robin’s intelligent and well formed opinion. Now will someone who can really do something about it respond, please!

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