The South San Joaquin Irrigation District will get their day in court after all.
On Friday morning the San Joaquin County Local Agency Formation Commission – the same body that denied the SSJID’s initial application to enter the retail power business – allowed for a series of items pertaining to the entity’s takeover of PG&E’s existing power system serving Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon to be formally placed on the agenda for their June 12 meeting.
The move was somewhat unexpected as the matter before LAFCo was whether to authorize Executive Director James Glaser to require SSJID to work with PA Consulting as an independent firm to complete the municipal service review required as a step in ultimately getting approval from the body.
But in the eyes of SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields, the firm that was being considered “independent” was anything but.
Standing at the lectern in the Board of Supervisors Chambers at the San Joaquin County administration building in downtown Stockton, Shields held up several pieces of paper that showed that one PA Consulting employee involved with the last SSJID report process was, for a two-and-a-half year period, a PG&E executive that held a position as the manager of the strategic planning division and also headed up the company’s industry intelligence wing.
The LinkedIn page summary lists “bringing a company out of bankruptcy (PG&E $9 billion refinancing)” as one of her professional achievements, and PG&E spent more than $1.36 million in contracting PA Consulting while she was still employed with the company.
The district, Shields argued, already had a draft Municipal Services Review (MSR) completed and didn’t see how dragging out the proceedings any further – their process before LAFCo has already produced thousands of pages of testimony and documentation over a four-and-a-half year span and cost the district millions of dollars – would lead to any new findings whatsoever.
San Joaquin County Supervisor Larry Ruhstaller agreed.
“We need to get this to a point where we can give it the thumbs up or the thumbs down because it’s been ready for that for a long time,” he said. “I think the process should move forward in order to find a resolution, not just to continue the process.”
Shields further threw down the gauntlet by promising to pull the plug on financing LAFCO’s staff time and legal fees during the process if they’re forced to use PA Consulting as a contracted “independent” agency.
“I have board members here and they’ll probably choke me if I don’t say this, but SSJID ratepayers won’t pay 10 more cents to the conflicted relationship between PA Consulting and its relationship with PG&E.”
The LAFCO board will discuss the environmental impact report, the district’s retail electrical service application and the MSR when they meet again next month. Other items pertaining to the situation could also be introduced, but a decision about whether SSJID will get the green light to use eminent domain to take over PG&E’s existing power delivery system that serves residents in Manteca, Lathrop, Ripon and Escalon will not be made at that meeting.
Shields called the decision – which came on a consensus and did not require an individual roll-call vote – progress but reinterred how he felt about LAFCO staff attempting to force SSJID to use a consulting firm that has obvious ties to PG&E when they had one of their own reports thrown out because of a perceived conflict of interest involving a respected expert in the field and a company he worked for 20 years prior.
A step in the right direction, Shields said, is fine, but nearly five years are passed and the steps should be over by now.
“We’re playing a different ballgame here than everybody else – information that was supposed to be disclosed to us was not disclosed to us,” Shields said. “We didn’t hire them as a consultant so we didn’t really see any reason to vet them. It’s situations like these that make you stop and wonder.”