PG&E Suit Challenging Fire District Ordinance Dismissed

A lawsuit filed by Pacific Gas and Electric against the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District challenging the validity of fire safety ordinances has been dismissed. PG&E, who was forced into bankruptcy over liabilities associated with wildfires caused with its electrical wires, objected to Ordinance 35 as being beyond the authority of the district to enact.

Ordinance 35 requires electric utilities to provide 48 hours’ notice before performing non-emergency electrical work within district boundaries, and mandates notice for all work during peak wildland fire season. The ordinance allows the district to fine the utility for not providing notice, and recover costs associated with overseeing the utility work.

The fire district enacted the ordinance to ensure they could provide adequate oversight of any work being done. PG&E claims that the ordinance infringes on the authority of the California Public Utilities Commission to regulate its work.

Last week, Contra Costa County Superior Court dismissed the suit on a procedural technicality, because PG&E failed to meet the time limit for publishing a legal notice of its lawsuit in a local newspaper.

PG&E spokesman Matt Nauman was quoted by SFGate as saying “This is an ongoing legal proceeding as the judge has not issued the actual order so we can’t comment at this time.”

San Ramon Valley’s Fire Chief Paige Meyer was quoted by Danville San Ramon as saying:

  • “We are willing to work with PG&E to help mitigate fire danger, but we are unwilling to let go of our ability to oversee their work.”
  • “This could be a way for PG&E to enhance working with fire districts to avoid another Paradise.”

The reference to Paradise was a wildland fire referred to as the Camp Fire in 2018, that destroyed the town of Paradise, California, destroyed 11,000 homes, and killed 85 people. It was started by a PG&E power transmission line.

Here is a copy of Ordinance 35.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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