Wilk calls for special session to investigate public safety power shutoffs

Sen. Scott Wilk

State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, announced Tuesday a request to California Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders to authorize a special session to investigate the public safety power shutoffs that have affected thousands of people, including in the Santa Clarita Valley. 

In a letter addressed to them on Monday, the senator asked that the investigation look into “whether these power shutoffs are being conducted in a manner where they are absolutely necessary, whether less burdensome alternatives are being ignored, and whether the (investor-owned utilities) are simply choosing to shut off the power as a simple way to avoid any costs of maintenance or making any lasting investments in their infrastructure.” 

A special session of the Legislature would be needed in order for the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to greenlight an audit of the Public Utilities Commission’s guidelines and the investor-owned utilities’ practices. Wilk said Tuesday that “it’s up to the discretion of the governor” whether to move forward with the special session “but at a minimum we should approve the investigation.” 

“Calls for the PUC to investigate these shutoffs is like asking the fox to audit the hen house,” he said in a prepared statement. “The investigating agency must be completely independent from undue influence of both the administration and IOUs. The State Auditor has a proven track record of independence and thoroughness in her investigations.”

His call for an investigation stems in part from learning about the struggles many residents from surrounding rural communities have faced amid the power shutoffs. On Monday night he met with hundreds of families that expressed frustration during an Acton Town Council meeting. 

“There were people out in the waiting area, even the fire marshall had to kick people out,” said Wilk. “People asked, ‘Why (is power shut off for 30 hours) if we aren’t in a fire zone and winds are less than 20 mph? What’s the criteria for shutting off power?’ They (Southern California Edison representatives) didn’t really have answers. When the power is out it’s like living in a third world country.”   

Last week, Wilk and Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, requested the Federal Emergency Management Agency provide personal generators and water to rural communities affected after the legislators personally rented and delivered a generator to a retired veteran in need of oxygen. 

Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, also wrote Newsom a letter Friday, calling for “far-reaching, comprehensive solutions” by allowing counties to immediately receive from the 2019 Budget Act the $75 million appropriated for power shutoff mitigation to cover for needs such as generators. She also suggested the PUC should call on SoCal Edison to reassess their mitigation plan. 

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