Political Notebook

Dan Walters: PUC mess: Did Brown play role?

Jerry Brown distances himself from embarrassing situations in the state government he ostensibly commands, never adopting Harry Truman’s “the buck stops here” attitude.

“I mean, look, s--- happens,” Brown infamously said three years ago, while shunning executive accountability for defects in the Bay Bridge reconstruction.

He’s been similarly dismissive – or often, just silent – on other imbroglios, such as the hidden money scandal in the Department of Parks and Recreation or the rampant cheating, drinking on duty and other misconduct at the firefighting academy.

However, a San Francisco judge’s ruling this week may force Brown to reveal whether he played any role in a scandal that erupted in the state Public Utilities Commission over a secret settlement in the multi-billion-dollar closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant.

It was revealed that PUC President Michael Peevey had secretly met with executives of Southern California Edison, co-owner of the plant, and agreed that $3.3 billion of the $4.7 billion shutdown cost should fall on ratepayers of SoCal Edison and co-owner San Diego Gas and Electric.

Coincidentally – or not – SoCal Edison donated $25 million to a climate change research project at UCLA that was a pet project of Peevey, a former Edison chief executive. Later, Edison was fined by the PUC for taking part in the meeting.

There have since been other embarrassing revelations of private PUC dealings with other utilities, including Pacific Gas and Electric, two former executives of which are Brown’s top two aides.

With the scandal snowballing, Peevey stepped down 15 months ago, saying, “Twelve years is enough.” He had been originally appointed by then-Gov. Gray Davis.

A state criminal investigation of Peevey, including a raid of his home, was launched, but that didn’t stop politicians and utility executives from throwing a lavish going-away party.

Mike Aguirre, the former city attorney of San Diego, has been conducting his own probe of San Onofre and wants to know whether Brown played any role in the case that Peevey’s successor, Brown appointee Michael Picker, has refused to reopen.

Aguirre has gone to court, seeking any records, especially emails, that connect Brown to the deal, but the PUC has strenuously opposed his demand, claiming that any San Onofre issues must, under state law, be handled by appellate courts.

On Monday, Judge Ernest Goldsmith declared that Aguirre can pursue his demand within the superior courts, terming it “an extraordinary case.”

“Withholding records of allegedly ex parte secret deals resulting in a shifting of utility losses to ratepayers cannot possibly be a regulatory function of the PUC,” Goldsmith said.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed two new bills to crack down on secret PUC deals in reaction to Brown’s veto of similar legislation last year.

Those vetoes, coupled with stonewalling Aguirre, increase suspicions that Brown does have something to hide.

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