On Monday, June 27, 2016, the day Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers announced a deal to overhaul the troubled California Public Utilities Commission.

Capitol Alert
By Jeremy B. White
June 27, 2016 – 11:19 AM

  • Embattled regulator has faced regular criticism
  • Influencers will need to register as lobbyists
  • Companies such as Uber, Lyft no longer in agency’s enforcement purview

A deal between Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers announced Monday will bring major changes to the oft-criticized California Public Utilities Commission, including removing the regulator’s enforcement authority over ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft.

“These reforms will change how this commission does business,” Brown said in a statement.

As a series of crises have beset the commission, from its response to a massive Southern California gas leak to the ouster of its former leader after revelations of back-channel dealings related to a deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion, legislators have agitated for changes. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, called the regulator “a mess” in advocating reforms.

Calling the regulator overburdened and ineffective, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, has advanced a constitutional amendment to dissolve the body and let lawmakers reconstitute it. With that measure marching steadily through the Legislature, Brown and lawmakers agreed to a package of changes. In the past, Brown has vetoed bills aimed at reining in the PUC.

“This is a key restructuring of the PUC,” Gatto said in an interview, adding that he would drop his measure. “We are freeing up their time and focus to really pay attention to the important things, which is the safety and fairness of our electrical and gas infrastructure.”

Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, whose district encompasses the site of the gasoline explosion and who has been one of the agency’s most dogged critics, said he hoped the compromise would restore public trust in an institution widely perceived as being “in bed with those utilities.”

“The problem is that it was being run by, controlled by and operated in support of the utilities. It was all really one-sided with a lack of real transparency,” Hill said. “We have a lot of work to continue to do, but this is a major reform effort and major step in the direction that will put the public back in the Public Utilities Commission.”

Less enthusiastic was Consumer Watchdog, a vocal critic of the PUC. Jamie Court, the organization’s president, wrote in a news release that the changes were “more cosmetic than substance.” He urged raising the bar for when utilities can charge ratepayers to cover the cost of new projects and said more of the PUC’s decisions should be subject to review by superior courts.

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