By: Kish Rajan
Assemblyman Mike Gatto is taking a bold step with his proposed constitutional amendment to obliterate the California Public Utilities Commission. Such a drastic action may not pass into law, but it kick-starts a critical conversation about the agency’s future.
Gatto cites concerns about the PUC’s handling of a string of problems related to energy utilities, including the San Onofre nuclear plant shutdown and the San Bruno gas line explosion. The commission is also deeply engaged in overseeing California’s massive shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
If regulating the energy industry wasn’t enough of a chore, utilities are not the only sector under the PUC’s purview. The commission has divisions overseeing railroads, light rail and transit; taxis and ride-share services; and water and sewer systems.
And its jurisdiction over telecommunications is largely overlooked. As the center of the innovation economy, California relies heavily upon strong telecommunications infrastructure. But the commission is failing to keep pace with the fast-changing industry, holding back critical investments to providing more and better technology to more Californians, particularly low-income citizens on the other side of the digital divide.
According to the Milken Institute, San Jose and San Francisco are the best-performing cities in the nation for job growth, wage gains and technological advancement. While that is laudable, what is the PUC’s plan to extend that prosperity beyond the Bay Area and into every region across California?
The pathway to greater prosperity is through innovation and investment. That is driven by consumer demand supported by forward-looking thinking, rather than outdated regulatory mandates.