The city of San Juan Capistrano is about to get “adversarial.”
The target is San Diego Gas & Electric's in downtown San Juan.
SDG&E submitted the plan to the California Public Utilities Commission on May 18. The $450-million overhaul moves through two simultaneous review processes. One considers the need and cost of the project. The other examines potential environmental impacts.
The city wants to provide comments in both avenues, but SDG&E wants to prevent comment in the need-and-cost hearing. Council members decided Tuesday to launch a protest. (Because Councilman Sam Allevato's property would be directly affected by the project, he did not participate in the discussion or vote.)
In its application, SDG&E noted that it “has applied to the CPUC for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity and has asked for approval without [need-and-cost] hearings.”
That got the council’s attention.
“We definitely need to have a nice, public, open hearing. Or more than one public, open hearing,” said Councilwoman Laura Freese.
SDG&E’s request seems contrary to democracy, Freese added. “We want our voices heard.”
The process moves quickly, so anyone wanting to have a say needs to step forward and file a “protest” within 30 days of a project’s application, according to a city staff report.
City Attorney Omar Sandoval said the matter will be determined by an administrative law judge in an “adversarial” hearing much like in court. The city may need to produce expert witnesses who testify that outside concerns exist and should be weighed when the CPUC considers the project.
“It’s something like litigation. We need to discuss costs and strategy in closed sessions,” Sandoval said.
lasted two hours, as residents voiced their concerns.
“The project would clearly result in potentially significant adverse impacts on these existing residential neighborhoods, including health and safety impacts from electromagnetic frequency radiation, visual and aesthetics from massive buildings and perimeter walls,” reads a letter staff drafted for the council to consider, intended to be sent to the judge who will hear the matter.
San Diego Gas & Electric spokesman Duane Cave said the city's concerns are environmental and should not be considered during the separate process to determine need for the project. SDG&E didn't request exemption from the environmental review hearing, although Cave said the "environmental assessment we submitted for our project provides sufficient information to support a reasonable finding by the commission in favor of the proposed project."
But the need-and-cost review is unnecessary, he said.
The council disagreed. To the verbiage of the draft letter, the council asked that the hearings be held in San Juan Capistrano and offered the use of City Hall at no cost.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Before becoming editor of San Juan Capistrano Patch, Penny Arévalo served on a focus group for San Diego Gas & Electric and saw early plans to upgrade the local substation and power poles in the area. For her service, she received $75.