INDUSTRY TO TOAST EX-PUC CHIEF PEEVEY -- Celebration for former utilities chief comes amid state corruption investigation
Union Tribune (2015-02-02) Jeff Mc Donald
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Even as state investigators rummaged through Michael Peevey’s kitchen, office and garage last week, many of the people he regulated as president of the California Public Utilities Commission have been invited to spend $250 apiece to toast him at a farewell dinner.
“You’re invited to join us in honoring Mike Peevey,” the invitation reads. “A lifetime of service to the people of California.”
A reception begins at 6 p.m. Feb. 12. Dinner follows at 7 p.m.
The gala is slated for the Julia Morgan Ballroom inside the Merchant Exchange Building in San Francisco’s financial district, right on the cable-car line. It will be sponsored by a host of current and former energy executives and lobbyists, as well as political appointees, union leaders and others.
Invitations to the salute for Peevey, who served 12 years as the top utility regulator in California, went out just as agents from the state Attorney General’s Office executed a search warrant at his La Cañada Flintridge home near Los Angeles, and the home of one of the utility executives he was close to.
Peevey is front and center in a public corruption investigation that began after emails released last year showed he regularly met with and communicated privately with executives from companies he was charged with regulating.
According to a search warrant obtained by U-T Watchdog and posted online Friday, investigators seized bank records, computers, files, thumb drives and six years worth of day planners from Peevey’s home on Tuesday.
They also found “RSG notes on Hotel Bristol stationary,” which appears to be a reference to replacement steam generators — the flawed project that led to the premature decommissioning of the San Onofre nuclear power plant.
Ratepayers in San Diego County and Southern California are to pay $3.3 billion out of the $4.7 billion in shutdown costs as a result of the faulty steam generators that leaked in 2012 and prompted the plant to close for good in 2013, a formula some have complained is unfair to the public.
The search warrant says Peevey is suspected of felony corruption for his dealings with utilities. The same day agents searched his home, they searched the home of Pacific Gas & Electric executive Brian Cherry.
Invitations to the dinner were sent to notable energy industry leaders up and down the state.
RSVPs were requested by Friday, and were directed to Susan Kennedy, a member of the California Health Benefit Exchange board and longtime chief of staff to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Kennedy did not respond to questions about the event.
Money raised will go to the Goldman School at the University of California Berkeley, where Peevey sits on a board of advisers.
Among the more than 80 gala co-sponsors is Kathleen Brown, the former state treasurer and Sempra Utilities board member who is also Gov. Jerry Brown’s sister.
The governor’s office, which has multiple representatives scheduled to attend, had no comment when asked about the event.
Brown appointees listed as sponsors include Robert Weissenmiller of the Energy Commission, Mary Nichols of the Air Resources Board, Denice Tyrell of the Public Utilities Commission and Dan Richard of the High-Speed Rail Authority.
One of the most significant co-sponsors may be Michael Picker, whom Brown appointed president of the utilities commission when Peevey stepped away.
U-T Watchdog reported last month on emails between Peevey and the companies he was supposed to regulate, showing he arranged meetings with them at expensive restaurants, dropped commission business to meet with them in private and accommodated their requests to delay commission business to their advantage.
Picker told U-T Watchdog the revelations were “troubling and very painful,” and he pledged to restore the reputation of commission he now runs.
Picker went on to open his first meeting of the commission with prepared remarks using similar language in reference to his predecessor.
Picker said the emails “show easy access to CPUC decision makers by utilities and other interested parties. They are troubling and very painful to read. But they are being carefully looked at by federal and state investigations, in which we are fully cooperating.”
Picker pledged to “move the agency forward with openness and transparency.”
On Friday, Picker defended his cosponsorship of the Peevey celebration in a statement to the U-T.
“He’s the former president and worthy of my respect for his many accomplishments,” Picker said in the statement.
The commission president did not respond to questions about whether his sponsorship of the event sends the wrong message to ratepayers or the public.
Former San Francisco mayor and state Assembly speaker Willie Brown will serve as emcee for the evening, according to the invitation. Brown subsequently became a lobbyist for Pacific Gas & Electric.
Other notable sponsors include former Edison executive Bruce Foster, public relations executive Dan Solem and Jan Smutney Jones, a lobbyist who represents energy producers.
Foster featured prominently in the U-T Watchdog story about Peevey’s emails with energy executives, as the regulator skipped commission business to lunch with Foster and delayed key decisions Foster and Edison were interested in. Foster called Peevey “such a dear” and “a great friend.”
Also Friday, under a court order, the utilities commission was to release some 65,000 additional emails. Spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said the records are being reviewed for any improper conduct.
“If it is discovered that any employee engaged in a practice that appears inconsistent with CPUC rules or state law, a further fact-finding will take place and appropriate corrective action, if needed, will be taken,” she said.
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