SAN BRUNO (BCN) — Five years after the San Bruno pipeline disaster, the city’s Crestmoor neighborhood is rebuilding, Mayor Jim Ruane said Wednesday.
Twenty-two homes have been rebuilt by residents out of the more than three dozen that were destroyed in the natural gas pipeline explosion on Sept. 9, 2010, and two more are in progress, Ruane said at San Bruno City Hall.
Another 10 lots were bought by a residential developer and should go on sale next year, Ruane said.
Another four lots will be used to expand a neighborhood park when it is rebuilt next year, and a project replacing all sewers, storm drains and other infrastructure in the area will wrap up in the first half of 2017.
“Finally, after five years, the end is in sight,” Ruane said.Ruane said that while many residents were relieved to see so much progress, others were frustrated by the lengthy recovery and are still feeling the impact of the massive explosion, which killed eight people and injured many others.
“A lot of people will, in fact, never recover,” Ruane said.
In April the California Public Utilities Commission issued a $1.6 billion fine and penalty against PG&E for the explosion, which was caused by a defective seam weld in a pipeline segment that was incorrectly listed in PG&E records as seamless, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Federal criminal charges were also filed last year against the utility, including one count of obstructing justice in the NTSB investigation and 27 counts of violating record-keeping and management requirements of the U.S. Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act. Federal prosecutors are seeking a fine of up to $1.13 billion if PG&E is convicted of all charges.
PG&E on Monday filed motions seeking dismissal of all criminal charges on a variety of grounds, a move that Ruane described as disappointing but not surprising, based on his dealings with the utility.
“This was criminal, this could have been prevented, this was not an accident,” Ruane said. “In my opinion, someone should serve jail time for this.”
Recalling the day of the explosion, Ruane said he had just attended a ribbon-cutting event for a store in San Bruno when he noticed the smoke from the fire.
He said that even firefighters initially thought a plane might have crashed into the neighborhood, and noted that it took nearly two hours for someone with PG&E to shut off the flow of gas.
In the years since the explosion, San Bruno officials have actively pushed regulators and legislators to punish PG&E for the explosion and to pass new regulations and laws that will help prevent similar disasters in the future.
Among other things, a lawsuit filed by San Bruno forced the CPUC to release thousands of pages of communication and emails that revealed close communication between PG&E and CPUC officials. The revelations caused the firing of three PG&E executives, helped lead to the departure of former CPUC President Michael Peevey and caused Commissioner Mike Florio to recuse himself from hearings on the San Bruno pipeline case and hearings on PG&E gas rates.
San Bruno officials have called for Florio to resign or be removed from the CPUC, a demand Ruane repeated. Ruane expressed disappointment that CPUC President Michael Picker has not yet launched a formal investigation known as an Order Instituting Investigation into the improper communications. Ruane said Picker had promised such an investigation in April, when the $1.6 billion fine against PG&E was announced, and set a self-imposed deadline of June 9 for it to begin.
“Is the agency trying to protect someone?” Ruane said.
Such a formal proceeding would take place before an administrative law judge and would carry the potential for further fines against PG&E, according to San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson. CPUC spokeswoman Constance Gordon said the CPUC had reviewed the emails of all employees and, while no illegal activities were found, had taken steps to discipline those who “failed to meet expectations of professionalism or showed personal interaction with regulated entities.” All employees were trained in the rules governing communications with regulated agencies.
The CPUC also hired a consultant to prepare a report on laws and practices relating to communications between CPUC decision makers and utilities and brought in new reporting procedures for such communications, Gordon said.
The CPUC is also cooperating with external investigations by the California Attorney General’s Office and federal prosecutors, Gordon said.
Gordon did not indicate whether a formal inquiry was planned and could not be reached for a followup question to clarify.