The following comes from a website run by the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council (click here). The document I am quoting from is called Information Concerning Sempra Energy Expansion of the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility. It can be found on the PRNC's site by clicking here. The topic is the Southern California Gas Company's (aka Sempra Energy) unfortunate reputation for starting fires in wilderness areas. Needless to say the people in Porter Ranch, living in a fire zone no less hazardous than our own, are very concerned about these guys and the potentially dangerous new project they have in mind.
Here are a few passages from the Porter Ranch article, authored by stakeholder Wes Rogers:
Sempra Energy Southern California Gas Company has filed an application to expand the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility and run a new high voltage transmission line from Newhall, over the mountain to the Aliso Canyon facility, right behind our houses, about a quarter mile up the road from the Tampa Avenue and Sesnon guard shack.
Los Angeles City and County fire investigators have determined the cause of the Sesnon Wildfire, erupting on the morning of October 13, 2008, to be a downed power line owned by the Southern California Gas Company (SCGC) at their Aliso Canyon facility. Transmission lines that come under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) are governed by brush clearance requirements and are subject to inspections by that body. However, transmission lines that belong to non-electric utilities located on private land, such as the Gas Company's line at the SCGC Aliso facility north of Sesnon, are not regulated by the CPUC, and so are not subject to the same kind of strict clearance and inspection requirements.
And then there is this:
Southern California Gas Company avoidance of safety and maintenance responsibilities at the Aliso facility demonstrates at best a complete lack of understanding of the dangerous nature of their operation, or much worse, a willingness to make trade-offs in operational expenses (brush clearance/line inspection costs) at the expense of neighboring community safety.
Now to say that some large and powerful corporations cut corners when it comes to the well-being of those unfortunate enough to share living space with them is a widely accepted notion. And certain corporations do have their share of less than scrupulous people working for them, folks who will do anything to quash community concerns and defeat any efforts that might ding company profits, no matter what the considerations. But since we are talking about wildfire danger here, you'd think that would have made a difference.
Wes Rogers, a Porter Ranch stakeholder and author of the article we quoted from above, had become a leader in the resident campaign to get the Southern California Gas Company (aka The Gas Company aka Sempra Energy) to recognize the significant fire dangers involved in this project. Among the considerations he and others were asking for is that The Gas Company budget for things such as brush clearing when constructing and operating power lines in fire danger areas. Wes, sensing SCGC's indifference to safety issues, also recognized the need to file a protest with the California Public Utilities Commission in order to get a proper hearing on this matter. Something that The Gas Company most definitely did not want to see happen. After all, they were still being sued for their role in the Sesnon Wildfires, something caused by their already existing power lines.
So who did they send in to take care of this troublesome resident? Someone very familiar to us living here in Sierra Madre.
Upon his learning of my filed protest, I was contacted by Joseph M. Mosca, Public Affairs Manager of Southern California Gas Company. He employed a disingenuous strategy to downplay and understate the nature of this new project in hopes that I could be easily placated. Upon my request to see maintenance and safety records and meet with the plant manager, my requests were denied and all communications from SCGC was ended. Is this what SGGC calls public outreach?
Yesterday I called Wes Rogers, and he shared some additional insights with me. The first is that The Gas Company (aka Sempra Energy) is fearful of a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) hearing on the matter of their new power lines. Power lines that they already own have been blamed for igniting the Sesnon Wild Fires of 2008, and the last thing they want to have to discuss in relationship to their new project are past safety failures. There is a pro forma Environmental Impact Review already in process, and it was The Gas Company's fervent desire to limit any discussion to just that venue. However, the Porter Ranch folks, led by Wes Rogers, contested this and prevailed. The CPUC took into account The Gas Company's past tragic incompetence in this area, denied their request for a waiver, and will be conducting the public hearing asked for by the Porter Ranch people soon. The issue not being the environment, but rather safety and basic competence. Score one for the residents.
Joe Mosca's assigned role in all of this was to talk Wes Rogers out of pursuing that California Public Utilities Commission hearing. He tried to do this by "diminishing the magnitude of the project," as Wes put it. As we have seen here in Sierra Madre, Joe's one specialty in life seems to be sweet talking residents into doing things that are not in their own best interest. And here his job was to talk Wes out of filing the CPUC protest. Joe tried to convince him that this was in no way a large or unsafe operation, but rather just "a few pieces of equipment."
Joe Mosca offered Wes a walking tour of the operation to see for himself what is going on. Wes said he would only agree to that offer if the person in charge of safety at the project was there to accompany him. A logical request since safety is the major issue here. Joe said that would not be possible. Wes then asked if the Aliso Canyon plant manager could attend the tour. Joe said he would have to get back to him on that. When Joe did call back, it was to inform Wes that the plant manager would not be available because of impending litigation issues concerning the Sesnon Wildfires.
Wes filed the protest with the California Public Utilities Commission, the Commission approved his request for a hearing, and Joe doesn't call him any more.
I asked Wes what these conversations with Joe Mosca were like. He told me that he found Joe to be "disingenuous" and his assumptions "insulting." Wes said he does a lot of mountain biking in the affected area, and he already knew exactly what was going on up there. Apparently it did not occur to Public Affairs Manager Mosca that the person who was the moving force behind the protest and now impending CPUC hearing might decide to go to the site and have a look for himself. Unaccompanied by any Gas Company public affairs managers.
We all have jobs to do, and sometimes things can happen that are problematic. But that said, wildfires are a serious consideration in California. Fatalities and property damage from such disastors are a yearly occurrence here. I cannot see how the Mayor of a city that has suffered from fire as much as ours could be so insensitive to the concerns of those living in a similarly afflicted community. No matter what the reason.