Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thursday Must Read: PG&E Never Fixed Pipe; Whitman Sets Self-Funding Record

By Robert Gammon
Thu, Sep 16, 2010 at 10:51 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. PG&E received approval from state regulators in 2007 to charge customers $4.9 million so the utility could replace a portion of the same pipeline that exploded last week, but then never completed the work, the Chron reports. The utility spent the money elsewhere and is now asking the California Public Utilities Commission to charge customers another $5 million to replace the same section of pipeline. PG&E also asked the PUC last year to charge customers $13 million to replace another section of the same pipeline that incinerated a neighborhood and killed at least four people.

2. PG&E’s CEO Peter Darbee, however, likely will keep his job despite the utility’s many troubles this year because the company’s monopoly will allow it to still make money, industry experts told the Chron. Darby has presided over PG&E at a time when it wasted $44 million on a failed ballot measure, endured harsh criticism for its controversial SmartMeters program, and saw one of its pipelines explode in a deadly fireball.

3. Mega-wealthy Meg Whitman has now spent $119 million from her own fortune to buy the November governor’s race, shattering the national record of $110 million set by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year. In a rare unscripted appearance, California’s Republican Party nominee also took tough questions in San Francisco yesterday from some Yelp employees, including a query about why she continues to run an ad that lies about Jerry Brown’s record on taxes, the Chron reports. Whitman defended the ad even though it’s been proven false, saying she was merely setting “the record straight” about Brown.

4. Oakland cops will now wear tiny video cameras to record their interactions with the public under a program approved by a city council committee earlier this week, the Trib reports. Both police and the public appear to embrace the idea. The $540,000 program, which also fulfills the requirements of a court settlement agreement on police misconduct, will now go to the full council for approval.

5. The Trib also has an interesting story today about a small East Oakland school — Manzanita SEED Elementary — that has made a remarkable academic turnaround. But the question remains as to whether the financially strapped school district can keep small schools like this one open or whether they will need to be combined with other less successful schools to save money.

6. Sacramento lawmakers will break the record this year for failing to complete a budget on time, the AP reports. The budget impasse has reached 78 days and if there’s no deal today, it will smash the state’s record for legislative gridlock. Few people expect a deal to be reached before the November election.

7. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is poised to adopt strict new air-pollution standards over the next few years, and is considering a wide-range of proposals, including a plan to levy fees on developments that encourage heavy auto use, the CoCo Times reports.

8. And a UC Berkeley chancellor’s committee is recommending that Cal consider eliminating five to seven intercollegiate sports so that the campus’ athletic program will lose less money each year, the Chron reports. The Express’ review of Cal financial documents in July revealed that the university could eliminate six total men’s and women’s sports teams that are highly unprofitable — tennis, gymnastics, and soccer — without jeopardizing the school’s athletics program.

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