Judge suspends hearings into Calif. pipeline blast

GARANCE BURKE, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- A judge on Monday temporarily suspended public hearings into possible penalties to be levied after a deadly natural gas pipeline explosion in a Northern California neighborhood.

The California Public Utilities Commission has been holding public hearings over the Sept. 9, 2010, blast that killed eight people, injured others and destroyed dozens of homes in the bedroom community of San Bruno.

On Friday, the commission's Consumer Protection and Safety Division filed a motion seeking a monthlong suspension of the hearings to determine penalties against the pipeline's owner, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The commission said the suspension would help the parties reach a settlement in the case.

CPUC Administrative Law Judge Mark Wetzell decided to put the hearings on hold until Oct. 15 so he could consider the request for the longer suspension.

Democratic Assemblyman Jerry Hill of San Mateo and San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane urged the judge to continue open hearings.

"We want a transparent, open discovery of evidence so that in the future public policy can be determined to prevent this from happening, and that can't be done behind closed doors," Hill said.

The commission has said in the past that any settlement with PG&E will require a vote of the five-member panel.

CPUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said the requested suspension would "give the parties an opportunity to focus their time and attention on negotiations toward a stipulated outcome."

PG&E spokesman Todd Burke said company officials hope to reach a settlement that "will allow everyone involved to continue the healing process."


Associated Press writer Terence Chea contributed to this report.