Lawmakers to hold hearing on public utilities’ role in wildfires

Six state lawmakers will hold a public hearing Friday in Santa Rosa to consider the role of public utilities in preventing wildfires.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Gas, Electric and Transportation Safety, will conduct the hearing along with all five North Bay legislators: Sens. Mike McGuire of Healdsburg and Bill Dodd of Napa and Assembly members Jim Wood of Healdsburg, Marc Levine of San Rafael and Cecilia Aguiar Curry of Winters, all Democrats.

The hearing, “California Burning: Utility Wildfire Prevention and Response,” will start at 10 a.m. in the City Council chambers at 100 Santa Rosa Ave.

Speakers will include Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott along with Greg McFadden, assistant regional chief, and Daniel Berlant, an assistant deputy director of the state firefighting agency; California Public Utilities Commission president Michael Picker and Elizabeth Malashenko, director of the PUC’s safety and enforcement division.

Representing the state’s three major utilities will be Pat Hogan, a senior vice president at PG&E; Phil Herrington, a senior vice president at Southern California Edison; and Brian D’Agostino, meteorology program manager, San Diego Gas and Electric Company.

The hearing comes as the North Bay recovers from October’s catastrophic wildfires, the most destructive in state history, with insured losses at $9 billion in region, including 6,190 homes burned and 40 lives lost.

Cal Fire is investigating the causes of the fires, while dozens of lawsuits have been filed against PG&E alleging poorly maintained power lines sparked the blazes.

Hill’s subcommittee conducted a similar hearing in November 2015, examining what power companies had done to improve safety since California’s major fires in 2007.

On Wednesday, the state Public Utilities Commission will hold its own daylong public meeting, at the commission’s San Francisco headquarters, to discuss whether additional steps are needed to prevent utility equipment from starting fires.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or On Twitter @guykovner.

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