California · Politics

Could Calif. turn out the lights on Public Utilities Commission? Voters could get their chance.

Could California voters turn out the lights on the powerful, and controversial, California Public Utilities Commission?

They might get their chance, courtesy of a newly-filed voter-led initiative.

Citing deadly wildfires caused by the state’s largest utility providers, regular blackouts, dizzying utility bills, and alleged corruption, Los Angeles County resident Adolfo Ramos supplied the text of the “California Regulatory Reform and Efficiency Act.”

In its entirety, the initiative – if qualified for a future ballot and approved by voters – would formally disband the California Public Utilities Commission via amendment to the state’s Constitution.

The PUC, formerly the Railroads Commission, took on the responsibility of regulating the state’s privately-held electric, natural gas, telecommunications, and water utilities following a different Constitutional amendment in 1946.

If ultimately approved, the various responsibilities of the PUC would broken up by legislators into pre-existing boards and commissions, decentralizing power and emphasizing specialization in government regulations of the various utility sectors.

The PUC came under withering criticism during the stretch of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recall campaign this year following news reports that the independent agency was being “micromanaged” by Newsom and his staff.

“We do whatever the governor tells us to do, period,” former CPUC executive director Alice Stebbins told Sacramento-based ABC10. “You don’t do anything without [Gov. Newsom’s] staff reviewing it or talking to you or approving it. And that’s the way it was.”

Under the state Constitution, the PUC does not answer to the Governor and incidents of receiving clearance from the Newsom administration are considered unconstitutional interference on the part of the Executive Branch.

Such interventions by Newsom and his office were at their highest when involving embattled PG&E amid its bankruptcy exit following manslaughter convictions in the 2018 Camp.

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

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.