PUC Recommends that SoCal Edison and Four Cellular Providers Face $99.2 Million in Fines for Fire Role
• City Council Urges Future Hearings to Be Held in Malibu
BY BILL KOENEKER
A state agency is recommending that $99.2 million in fines be collected from Southern California Edison and four cellar companies for allegedly overloading power poles, which then caught fire in the 2007 Malibu Canyon fire that destroyed 14 structures.
The recommendation came from the California Public Utilities Commission's Consumer Protection and Safety Division in its filing last week.
This week, Malibu City Council members called on the state agency to conduct some of the hearings in Malibu.
"Southern California Edison is carefully reviewing the prehearing conference statements filed Oct. 21 by the CPUC's Consumer Protection and Safety Division and by other parties concerning the Malibu wildfire of October 2007," said Lauren Bartlett, SCE spokesperson, in a prepared statement.
Fire victim Ed Meyer told the Malibu Surfside News in an emaiI, "I plan to file a civil suit seeking a like amount of money $99.2 million next week, now that it has come out who is responsible for the danger that SCE and the other companies exposed myself, my wife and my children, too. I think that a class-action suit is also in order here."
In the filing last week, the state watch dog agency accused Edison, NextG Networks of California, Sprint, AT&T Mobile and Verizon Wireless of each committing multiple safety violations.
In further comment, Edison said. "SCE believes the recommended penalties are not supported by the evidence and are excessive."
The companies are accused of utilizing poles that were allegedly overloaded by equipment and wires and were unsafe when Santa Ana winds blew them down and caused the fire.
In addition to burning homes, the Canyon Fire destroyed the Malibu Presbyterian Church, the "Malibu Castle," and damaged Webster Elementary and Our Lady of Malibu schools .
Bartlett said, in the statement, "SCE is particularly disappointed in allegations in division staff's testimony from earlier this year that the utility misled the commission during the course of this investigation. SCE believes it has at all times complied with its obligations and will continue to vigorously defend itself in this proceeding."
One report indicates the poles, according to SCE's estimate, were subjected to winds in Malibu Canyon that night which were 114 miles per hour—above the 92 mph design standard specified by the PUC.
The SCE statement concluded, "Public safety is a matter of utmost importance to SCE as is its reputation for complying with its obligations as a regulated utility. The company takes allegations of this nature very seriously."
Meyer added he had more questions than answers, "Is there a provision in this to force them to put the lines underground? Will they be forced to deal with high tension wires that travel over Decker hill and down into Malibu Canyon?"
Some council members said they hoped more than hearings could come to Malibu, saying they hoped the money, if settled, could be also sent down to Malibu to replace the poles.