Demand Letter is the First Step to Legal Action
June 16, 2013 (San Diego) -- Citizens' Oversight, an organization that encourages citizens to take an active role in oversight of their democracy, submitted a demand letter to the California Public Utilities Commission on June 11 alleging that the CPUC violated open meeting laws by halting the group’s representative, Ray Lutz (photo, left), from videotaping a recent public meeting on the San Onofre nuclear plant held in San Francisco. The watchdog group’s letter seeks removal of the CPUC’s administrative law judge from the proceedings and other remedies.
Martha Sullivan with the Coalition to Decommission San Onofre said, "It was disheartening to see the CPUC judge presiding over this investigation of multi-billion dollar regulated utilities be more concerned with their privacy than allowing the Southern California public to observe the evidentiary hearings."
Citizens Oversight National Coordinator Ray Lutz attempted to set up his camera in the back of the CPUC hearing room on May 13. According to the Bagley Keene Open Meeting Act of 1967, the public may record such public meetings. This meeting was a quasi-judicial hearing regarding San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) to determine if Southern California Edison acted reasonably after the emergency shutdown of the Unit 3 reactor steam generator tube leak, and subsequent outage of both units at the plant in 2012. Although this hearing affected millions of ratepayers in the southern California area, it was held in CPUC Headquarters in San Francisco, 450 miles from the affected area. Lutz contends this made video recordings of the meeting important to inform local residents about the proceedings.
Administrative Law Judge Melanie Darling felt that the privacy concerns of the participants outweighed the right for the public to record the meeting.
“ Citizens Oversight believes this judgment was a disgusting reminder that the CPUC caters to the desires of the utilities rather than the public,” a press release issued by Citizens’ Oversight stated, “and in this case, Southern California Edison wanted to avoid the embarrassment of the San Onofre outage affair, and would rather operate in relative secrecy rather than allowing full review by the public.”
The first day of the proceedings were not recorded in any manner, and a transcript is not available to the public on their web site. However, ALJ Darling later ordered that a webcast be provided for the remaining days, but still ruled that the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act did not apply to her hearing room, and disallowed video and audio recordings.
The video of the confrontation, as well as the demand letter, can be viewed at this web page:
The letter demands that the Commission shall, by formal action:
1. declare the actions restricting recording of these public meetings by ALJ Darling on May 13, 2013, to be in violation to the Bagley-Keene Act;
2. declare the actions of ALJ Darling requiring that a member of the public identify him/herself to be in violation of California Government Code 11124;
3. formally reprimand ALJ Darling and remove her from presiding at this proceeding;
4. provide transcripts without charge and any audio recordings that may have been made on the CPUC website, particularly for the first day which is not available as a webcast recording; and
5. create a policy statement to support the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act by allowing audio and video recording by the public of all such future proceedings, without advance notice, and providing live webcasts when feasible.
Citizens Oversight, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation founded in El Cajon, is a party in the CPUC investigation into the San Onofre outage DBA "The Coalition to Decommission San Onofre", along with other organizations who are members of the coalition. Citizens Oversight also acts as the corporate umbrella for this activity. However, the demand letter is submitted to the CPUC explicitly not as a party to the proceeding but representing the interests of the public.