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Major Changes Coming To California Public Utilities Commission

Daniel Hoherd, flickr

Daniel Hoherd, flickr

Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers have reached a deal to overhaul the California Public Utilities Commission, the agency that's drawn fire for lackluster safety oversight and cozy relationships with the utilities it regulates.

The commission regulates gas and electric utilities, like PG&E and Southern California Edison. It regulates cable, phone and Internet companies – think Comcast and AT&T. And it regulates taxis and ride-share services – like Lyft and Uber.

“This entity governs so much of life in California now” – far too much for one agency, says Democratic Asm. Mike Gatto – one of the lawmakers who negotiated the overhaul with Brown. (Democratic Sens. Mark Leno and Jerry Hill are the others.)

Gatto pointed to the commission’s contentious debates over background checks for Lyft and Uber drivers.

“The CPUC had spent a whole lot of time and effort and energy on whether a background check should go back seven years or eight years,“ Gatto told reporters at the state Capitol Monday shortly after the governor's office announced the deal. “And they’re doing this, of course, while pipelines are literally blowing up.”

In addition to transparency and ethics reforms, many of the CPUC’s transportation responsibilities will be moved to the California Highway Patrol and Department of Motor Vehicles. The state will study whether to reassign oversight of cable, phone and Internet companies.

“These reforms will change how this commission does business,” the governor said in a statement. “Public access to meetings and records will be expanded, new safety and oversight positions will be created and ex parte communication rules will be strengthened.”

Many of the details are yet to be negotiated, but Monday's announcement was driven largely by the June 30th deadline for the Legislature to place measures on the November ballot. The Assembly had approved a constitutional amendment earlier this year by a wide bipartisan margin that would have asked voters to dissolve the CPUC entirely. 

A vote on the deal is expected later this summer.

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