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February 16, 2016

President Michael Picker


California Public Utilities Commission
505 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco

RE: 2011 San Bernardino Triple Electrocution Public Records Act Inquiry
Dear President Picker,
I wish to follow up on my request for information about why the California Public Utilities
Commission chose not to provide an accident investigation to the family of three people who were
electrocuted in 2011 after the accident investigation was completeas the Commission authorized in
Resolution L-413but instead withheld it for 15 months, and only released it upon reaching a
settlement with Southern California Edison (Edison) for the same incident.
The details of the accident and the Public Records Act request and response, as far as I understand
them, are as follows: In the early morning of January 14, 2011, winds led to contact between two of
Edisons 12 kV electric conductors, causing an arc of electricity that broke one of the conductors,
which landed in Steven Vegos backyard on North Acacia Avenue and started a fire. Mr. Vego went to
his backyard to try to extinguish the fire when he was shocked by the downed line. His wife Sharon
and her 21 year old son Jonathon Cole tried to help him, but were electrocuted as well. From inside the
house, 17 year old Kayli and 9 year old Stevie watched.
Martin Cervantes, an attorney representing Jonathon Coles father, requested on March 25pursuant to
the Public Records Actthat the Commission provide the accident investigation. On May 26 the
Commission approved Resolution L-413, authorizing staff to provide the accident investigation to Mr.
Cervantes upon its completion. The investigation was completed on December 17, 2012, but the
investigation was not provided to the Mr. Cervantes until March 24, 2014the same day that the
Commission opened an Order Instituting Investigation (OII) into the matterand the same day that the
Safety and Enforcement Division (SED) and Edison requested approval of a settlement in that
proceeding.
During the August 6, 2014, electric safety hearing of the Subcommittee on Gas and Electric
Infrastructure Safety, I expressed my concern to then-Deputy Director of Utility Safety and Reliability

Elizaveta Malashenko that, by negotiating a settlement with Edison based on the facts outlined in the
staff accident investigation report and yet not providing to the family attorney a copy of that report
until many months later, the Commission was, in effect, making the document public for one person
but not for another, which would be a violation of the Public Records Act.1 Perhaps more perplexing,
the Commissionwhich was the only public entity to perform an investigationeffectively took the
side of the utility against the grieving family in a civil matter. While Commission staff investigations
are not admissible as evidence in a civil dispute, attorneys ask for them to help guide discovery,
understanding that investigationsas promoted in Resolution L-413may lead to discovery of
admissible evidence and aid in the resolution of litigation regarding the accident or incident under
investigation. I told Deputy Director Malashenko that I was not looking for her to answer the question
at this time, but that further discussion was warranted, likely involving the Commission's Legal
Division.
After a number failed attempts to schedule a meeting through your Office of Governmental Affairs
(OGA), I again brought up the issue with you, Executive Director Sullivan, and now-Director
Malaskenko at the March 25, 2015, energy infrastructure safety hearing of the Senate Committee on
Energy, Utilities and Communication. Subsequent to the hearing, a conversation between my staff and
OGA left me with even more questions, and so I feel it necessary to ask those questions now in
epistolary form.
Your OGA had informed my office that the reason the accident investigation report had not been
released to the family's attorney until after the settlement agreement had been signed was that Edison
had claimed confidentiality on information contained in the accident investigation staff report, and that
the Commission was only free to release the report after Edison had signed the settlement in which it
agreed not to claim confidentiality on any investigation material. What confuses me about this
explanation is that the Commission already voted on May 26, 2011, to release the staff accident
investigation report once that report was complete. The authorizing resolution was clear that there
could be some redactions for an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, or any information which
is subject to the Commissions lawyer-client or other privilege. For Edison to claim confidentiality on
material in the report and for staff to choose not to release the report based on that claim calls into
question the Commission's entire Public Records Act process.
To aid my understanding of this situation, I would like answers to the following questions:
1. When did SED staff present the staff accident investigation report to Edison?
2. Did Edison request that the staff accident investigation report be withheld from the requestor or
any other member of the public?
3. Are there any documentswhether public or subject to attorney-client privilege or attorney
work product privilegethat discuss a decision to withhold the staff accident investigation
report from the public?
4. Is it the Commissions interpretation of the nonselective disclosure principle in Government
Code 6253(a) (requiring that every person has a right to inspect any public record) and Black
1

Government Code 6253 states that every person has a right to inspect any public record. See also Black Panther
Party v. Kehoe (1974) 42 Cal. App. 3d 645.

Panther Party v. Kehoe consistent with mine that, once the Commission provides a staff
accident investigation report to a regulated utility, that document is no longer subject to the
investigatory exemption in Government Code 6243(f) and must be released to the public?
5. Does the Commission consider this situationwhere an investigation report was presented to
the utility and not to the record requestoranomalous and not subject to repeat given existing
policy and procedures, or does the Commission maintain that such an action is legal and
appropriate under certain situations? If the latter, how was withholding the investigation from
the requestor while providing it to Edison legal and appropriate in this situation?

As the Commission has recently been subject to the perception of an inappropriately close relationship
with regulated utilities, I hope you can appreciate the opportunity to clarify the Commissions policy
and processes. Thank you for your attention to this issue.

Sincerely,

Jerry Hill
Senator, 13th District

cc:

Catherine J.K. Sandoval, Commissioner


Mike Florio, Commissioner
Carla J. Peterman, Commissioner
Liane M. Randolph, Commissioner
Timothy Sullivan, Executive Director
Elizaveta Malashenko, Director, Safety and Enforcement Division