Pols want AG to probe CPUC’s ties with PG&E

Peninsula politicians want state Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate possible crimes involving the California Public Utilities Commission’s shockingly cozy relationship with PG&E during the agency’s probe of the utility after the deadly 2010 gas explosion in San Bruno.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo; Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco; and San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane will hold a news conference Friday morning in San Francisco to deliver a letter to Harris.

The latest revelation of emails between CPUC staff and PG&E executives led to the outser of officials at both this week. The utility also disclosed in a regulatory filing that it may have violated PUC rules with emails it sent the agency as recently as January.

E-mails released by PG&E showed that the utility tried to influence the selection of the administrative law judge who would decide how much customers’ rates should go up to pay for required gas pipeline improvements after the 2010 blast killed eight and injured more than 50.

“The letter from Hill, Mullin and Ruane also cites what appear to have been a series of illegal interventions on PG&E’s behalf in the penalty case against PG&E for the explosion in San Bruno perpetrated by the CPUC’s executive director and former general counsel – including pressuring its own attorneys to advocate no penalty in the case, which attorneys felt to be ‘illegal and unethical;’ reassigning the attorneys after they refused to back down; and firing one when he pressed PG&E to produce pipeline safety records,” according to a news release from Hill’s office.

Gov. Jerry Brown offered full-throated support for CPUC President Michael Peevey last month even after an initial disclosure of e-mails related to the San Bruno case.

“I know there’s been a lot of ink poured out on this topic, but I would say he’s a very effective leader, he gets things done” especially on promoting renewable energy, Brown said of Peevey at the time. He went on to describe Peevey as “a strong force,” the likes of which hasn’t held the CPUC’s reins since John Bryson did so during Brown’s second term, from 1979 to 1982.


Mike Honda urges Brown to sign Martins Beach bill

Rep. Mike Honda is urging Gov. Jerry Brown to sign a bill that would re-open San Mateo County’s Martins Beach, the focus of a fierce battle between a billionaire who closed off the access road and surfers and advocates wanting to reach the beach.

The Legislature last month sent Brown SB 968 by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, which would instruct the State Lands Commission to consider buying Martins Beach Road if it can’t cut a deal with venture capitalist Vinod Khosla to voluntarily open access to the coastline near his sprawling property.

“The people of northern California have waited too many years to regain their historical access to Martins Beach,” Honda, D-San Jose, wrote in a letter to Brown dated Thursday. “The State of California has always recognized the importance of open spaces for its citizens and provided them access to the beautiful coasts in the Coastal Act of 1976. We must preserve this treasured public access to our state’s best resources.”

The beach isn’t in Honda’s 17th Congressional District; it’s in Rep. Jackie Speier’s 14th District. But Honda’s office says he’s been “a supporter of open spaces throughout his political career,” advocating for projects throughout the South Bay and Peninsula. (Speier’s office says she “supports public access,” but described no position on SB 968.)

“Protecting our open spaces and California’s sacred wilderness is more than sound public policy – it’s our obligation,” Honda wrote. “In my work, first as a County Supervisor, as a State Assembly member, and finally as a member of Congress I have continually fought to ensure public access to open spaces for all Californians to enjoy – equal access to our state’s treasured assets is a core value – and one that should be afforded to all, regardless of income.”

Hill, San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley and members of the Surfrider Foundation and Sierra Club will hold a news conference Friday morning outside the closed gate to Martins Beach to urge Brown to sign the bill.

Brown, in a meeting with the Bay Area News Group’s editorial board a few days before SB 968 reached his desk, declined to comment on the issue: “I think that topic is being sufficiently contested, it doesn’t need any further comment from me.”


Bill: State must buy or take Khosla’s beach land

Billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla either would have to voluntarily sell part of the beach property he bought in 2008 to the state or else see it seized under eminent domain powers, under a bill to be introduced Friday by a Bay Area lawmaker.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, plans a news conference Friday near Half Moon Bay to roll out a bill he says would settle the years-long battle between Khosla, 59, of Portola Valley, and various local residents and groups. The battle is being watched across the nation as a key, possibly precedent-setting showdown between private property owners and public access rights.

Khosla – a Sun Microsystems cofounder and prominent donor to President Obama – in 2008 paid $37.5 million for 89 acres near Martin’s Beach, a popular surfing and picnicking spot south of Half Moon Bay. The property’s previous owners had charged visitors $5 for access and parking at the beach, but Khosla built a gate and declared the beach closed to the public.

Hill’s bill would require the State Lands Commission to start negotiations with Khosla to buy all or part of the property for a public access road; if no deal is struck within a year, the bill would require the commission to acquire all or part of it by eminent domain to create that road.

Vinod KhoslaA group of surfers who were arrested in October 2012 for walking around the gate and down the road to the beach dubbed themselves “Martin’s 5;” county prosecutors later dropped the charges.

A group of three surfers calling themselves Friends of Martin’s Beach sued to restore public access, citing a section of the state constitution that says property owners can’t completely block access to public bodies of water. But San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Gerald Buchwald ruled in October that this provision doesn’t apply because the constitution was predated the original land grant, which dates back to 1848.

The Surfrider Foundation has sued Khosla too, based mostly on the California Coastal Act and claiming Khosla didn’t get a coastal development permit for the gate and “keep out” signs. That case is scheduled to be tried later this year.


Bill would ban sale of license-plate reader data

Those who collect data with automatic license-plate readers would be prohibited from selling or sharing it except among law enforcement agencies, under a bill introduced Friday by a Bay Area state Senator.

“Automatic license plate reader technology is a useful tool for law enforcement,” state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “But use of this technology must be balanced with personal privacy.”

Used mainly by law enforcement agencies, automatic license plate reader technology uses high-speed cameras – often mounted on police cars, but sometimes mounted at fixed points as well – along with software and criminal databases to rapidly check and track the license plates of millions of Californians. It’s also often used by private, non-law enforcement entities, such as parking and repossession companies.

But as use of this technology has increased, so has the concern of civil libertarians; current law doesn’t require LPR operators to keep the data private.

Under SB 893, data that’s less than five years old could be sold or provided only to law enforcement; data that’s more than five years old would be available to law enforcement only with a court order. Violators would be subject to civil lawsuits, with anyone affected by a privacy breach entitled to recover damages including costs and attorney’s fees.

license plate readersHill notes license-plate readers are an important law-enforcement tool: The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, in its first 30 days of using the technology, identified and located 495 stolen vehicles, five carjacked vehicles, and 19 other vehicles that were involved in felonies. These identifications led to 45 arrests, including some people suspected of bank robbery and home invasion.

“Law enforcement will still be able to continue to use LPR technology to catch criminals,” Hill said. “But Californians will have peace of mind that their personal information is safeguarded.”


State Sen. Jerry Hill tapped to chair enviro panel

California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has nominated state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, to chair the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality.

The nomination – to fill the vacancy created by the abrupt resignation of former chairman Michael Rubio, D-Shafter – will be considered Thursday by the Senate Rules Committee.

“During this legislative session, we will tackle multiple pressing policies of major consequence to California’s environment and the quality of life that makes California attractive, competitive, and pioneering,” Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said in a news release. “The Senate’s Environmental Quality Committee will lead the discussion on strengthening the California Environmental Quality Act, on water quality, and on hazardous waste. This heavy agenda promises two momentous years for California’s nationally-renowned leadership on environmental policy.”

Steinberg said Hill’s 13th State Senate District, with both a long stretch of Pacific coastline and a significant chunk of Silicon Valley, “embodies the confluence of economic growth and outstanding natural beauty.

“He is well-positioned to appreciate the complexities of this challenge, and well-versed in the false dichotomy that pitches business against the environment,” Steinberg said. “California has led, and will continue to lead the nation in smart, environmentally sustainable economic growth.”

Hill said he’s honored by Steinberg’s nomination “and I look forward to working collaboratively with him and all of the Environmental Quality Committee stakeholders to protect the environment while ensuring that our laws are aligned with California’s 21st century economy.”


Bay Area Senators revive DISCLOSE Act

Two Bay Area state Senators announced Thursday the re-introduction of a bill requiring that the top three funders of political ads be clearly identified, both on the ads themselves and on the campaign’s website.

SB 52, the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act, by state Senators Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Jerry Hill, D-Palo Alto, is sponsored by the California Clean Money Campaign. It applies to advertising for ballot measure campaigns, independent expenditures and issue advocacy. The bill introduced today is intent language, to which details will be added early next year before it’s heard in policy committees.

“We saw evidence in the most recent election cycle of unnamed organizations throwing around large sums of money in order to confuse California voters,” Leno said in a news release. “The only way to stop this covert financing of campaigns is to require the simple and clear disclosure of the top three funders of political ads so voters can make well-informed decisions at the ballot box.”

Hill said the bill is “vital to protecting the integrity of our democratic process and ensuring fair elections in our state. After seeing billions of dollars flow into elections across our country after the Citizens United decision, we need the DISCLOSE Act now more than ever.”

California Clean Money Campaign president Trent Lange said more than 350 groups and individuals signed on to support the last version of this bill and more than 84,000 Californians signed petitions for it, “demonstrating the rising outcry to stop Big Money special interests from deceiving voters when they fund political ads.”

Actually, this effort has had several iterations recently. AB 1148 last January got 52 Assembly votes, falling short of the two-thirds supermajority it needed to pass. And AB 1648 was passed by the Assembly in August after being amended to require only a simply majority vote, but was stuck in a state Senate committee at the end of the last session. Both of those bills were authored by then-Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, now congresswoman-elect for the 26th House District.