Ex-Sen. Mitchell withdraws as mediator in San Bruno, PG&E settlement talks

AP file photoFormer Sen. George Mitchell in a 2010 file photo.

AP file photoFormer Sen. George Mitchell in a 2010 file photo.

Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell has stepped down from overseeing private settlement talks over a deadly Northern California pipeline explosion after state regulators set up a mediation process criticized by several parties as an unfair, backroom deal.

The California Public Utilities Commission appointed the former Senate Majority Leader earlier this month to mediate a settlement aimed at determining how much Pacific Gas & Electric Co. should be fined for the blast.

But the cities of San Bruno and San Francisco as well as the commission's own consumer advocacy branch said Mitchell should not preside over talks because the commission had given PG&E advance notice of his hiring.

The organizations did not question the talents of Mitchell — who brokered the 1998 Northern Ireland treaty — but were concerned that he and his law firm, DLA Piper, previously had represented public utilities.

“What seemed to prompt the concern was simply the way we decided to appoint him, without prior consultation with the parties,” said Commissioner Mike Florio, who chairs one of the proceedings intended to determine the level of fines for PG&E.

Over the past two years, the company has faced grueling public hearings over potential malfeasance leading up to the 2010 blast, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in San Bruno, a bedroom community just south of San Francisco.

Commission staff said in an internal letter that settlement talks could restart Monday, now without a mediator.

“We're looking forward getting back to the negotiating table,” said San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson. “It was forced mediation and a forced mediator that we objected to.”

Mitchell's law firm did not immediately return emails and voicemails seeking comment Friday.

“We continue to support negotiations and look forward to being part of the process,” said Todd Burke, a PG&E spokesman.

PG&E and the CPUC have refused to disclose any specifics about how much Mitchell and his firm were to be paid, or any other details about the contract. Tom Long, an attorney with the San Francisco-based nonprofit The Utility Reform Network, said the parties never actually met with Mitchell.

Bay Area NewsLocalPeninsula

Just Posted

A large crack winds its way up a sidewalk along China Basin Street in Mission Bay on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
San Francisco’s sinking sidewalks: Is climate change to blame?

‘In the last couple months, it’s been a noticeable change’

For years, Facebook employees have identified serious harms and proposed potential fixes. CEO Mark Zuckerberg, pictured in 2019, and COO Sheryl Sandberg have rejected the remedies, causing whisteblowers to multiply. (Eric Thayer/New York Times)
Facebook’s problems at the top: Social media giant is not listening to whistleblowers

Whistleblowers multiply, but Zuckerberg and Sandberg don’t heed their warnings

Maria Jimenez swabs her 7-year-old daughter Glendy Perez for a COVID-19 test at Canal Alliance in San Rafael on Sept. 25. (Penni Gladstone/CalMatters)
Rapid COVID-19 tests in short supply in California

‘The U.S. gets a D- when it comes to testing’

Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo led a late-game comeback against the Packers, but San Francisco lost, 30-28, on a late field goal. (Courtesy of San Francisco 49ers)
The Packers beat the Niners in a heartbreaker: Don’t panic

San Francisco is no better and no worse than you thought they were.

San Francisco State University closed its campus on Tuesday morning. (Courtesy photo)
SF State asks for all instruction to be done remotely Tuesday due to threat

San Francisco State University officials are calling for all in-person instruction and… Continue reading

Most Read