Utility Watchdog in San Diego
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About

UCAN has represented the interests of San Diego County utility customers since 1983. UCAN focuses its efforts on the rates and services of San Diego Gas and Electric Company, telecommunications utilities and the City of San Diego Water Department.  We do this by intervening in legal proceedings before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), by supporting litigation in court cases, and by helping individual utility customers with problems they are having with their utility bills and services.

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2017 Annual Update from the Executive Director

Dear UCAN Member,
 
I am writing to give you an annual update on UCAN’s activities and to thank you for your support in helping us protect residential and small business utility customers. In 2016 UCAN challenged several SDG&E proposals before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to save costs to ratepayers. In SDG&E’s General Rate Case, UCAN submitted expert testimony, cross-examined SDG&E’s witnesses, participated in almost a month of hearings, and presented cost saving alternatives to SDG&E’s proposals. UCAN’s participation helped cut $100 million dollars from SDG&E’s original rate request and also stopped SDG&E from closing branch offices in San Diego, National City and Oceanside.
Looking forward to 2017, UCAN is opposing SDG&E’s attempt to raise customer’s rates to build a new $639 million gas pipeline. UCAN’s pipeline expert is analyzing the plan to help us recommend other more cost effective alternatives to SDG&E’s costly new pipeline proposal.  UCAN is also fighting SDG&E’s latest application to charge ratepayers $379 million for their uninsured 2007 wildfire costs.  These devastating wildfires, two of which were ignited by SDG&E’s utility equipment, resulted in fatalities, destroyed buildings and forced evacuations of thousands of county residents.
UCAN is also working with the San Diego City Council on water cost of service issues.  UCAN has proposed that the City Council receive advice from an independent expert as they review the Public Utilities Department’s water rate proposals in addition to the experts hired by or who work for the City’s Public Utilities Department.  Because of our work assisting many San Diego water customers with billing and service disputes, we are also meeting with the Public Utilities Department to propose changes to their process to provide improved clarity and transparency to water customers.
As a membership organization, we rely on your continued support to carry out our work.  Please help UCAN continue our ratepayer advocacy by returning your donor card with the most generous tax-deductible contribution you can afford.  Your membership and donations help us continue to challenge utilities when they seek to increase rates or degrade customer service and to help individual customers with problems as they arise. On the back of this letter, you will find a sampling of cases we have been working on over the past year and new issues which we are working to address in 2017.
I hope you have a Happy Holiday Season!

Sincerely,

Donald M. Kelly

Executive Director

 

UCAN’S ADVOCACY BEFORE THE CALIFORNIA PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION (CPUC)

  • UCAN opposes SDG&E’s new $639 million pipeline request.  SDG&E has an old pipeline that supplies 10% of their gas pipeline capacity.  SDG&E has proposed to replace this old gas pipeline with a new, much larger, $639 million pipeline.  While UCAN always supports safety and reliability, we oppose SDG&E’s attempt to increase rates to pay for a much larger pipeline in an era of decreasing gas demand and at a time when the state is moving away from the use of fossil fuels. UCAN’s pipeline expert is examining SDG&E’s proposal looking for cost effective alternatives.
  • UCAN opposes SDG&E’s request to charge ratepayers $379 million to cover uninsured costs from the 2007 wildfires.SDG&E equipment started two wildfires in October 2007 that resulted in 2 fatalities, significant property destruction, and thousands of evacuations. UCAN believes that SDG&E shareholders should be responsible for these costs, not the ratepayers.
  • UCAN seeks uniform standards for how utilities measure risk and fund their safety plans.  The CPUC is examining how California utilities measure risk and how much ratepayer money the utilities spend to mitigate those risks.  UCAN believes that the CPUC should require a uniform method to evaluate risk so that money spent on safety can be easily compared between utilities to see how cost effective those expenditures were, and how much risk reduction was achieved for each dollar spent.   

UCAN’S WATER PROJECT ADVOCACY

  • UCAN’s proposal for independent expert advice on San Diego water rates.  In November 2015 the City Council approved a massive 5-year water rate increase for customers. At that time the City’s Public Utilities Department (PUD) presented only one rate option for the Council to consider.   UCAN is now proposing that the Council obtain the advice of an independent water rate consultant with the expertise to examine in detail the water department's assumptions, estimates and forecasts and whose mission will be to advocate for the lowest possible water rates consistent with safe and reliable service. 
  • UCAN proposals to provide better oversight of the San Diego’s Public Utilities Department (PUD).  San Diego’s Independent Rates and Oversight Committee (IROC) is a citizen oversight committee that provides to the City Council recommendations regarding the operations of the City’s Public Utilities Department.  UCAN is seeking to also provide IROC with the added resource of an independent water rate expert to enhance their ability to provide citizen oversight on water issues.

LET UCAN ADVOCATES HELP YOU WITH UTILITY SERVICE AND BILLING DISPUTES

UCAN advocates are always available to provide assistance to electric, gas, telephone and water ratepayers, especially helping customers resolve billing disputes and avoid service interruptions. Over the past year, UCAN has worked on over 200 cases, assisting San Diego County ratepayers with billing, utility shutoffs, and questions about energy, water, and telecomm services.  If you need our help, we are here for you so please call us at (619) 696-6966 or fill out a request for assistance form at www.UCAN.org

Please Contribute

As a 501(c)(3), we rely on your support to continue our important work. Please help UCAN continue our ratepayer advocacy by returning your donor card with the most generous tax-deductible contribution you can afford.

 

 

 

Thank you again for your continuing support of UCAN.  Happy Holidays!

 

UCAN is a recipient of a cy pres award from the class action litigation: Joel Roos, et al. v. Honeywell International, Inc.San Francisco County Superior Court Case No. CGC-04-436205 (RAK). Daniel Mogin,of the Mogin law firm in San Diego was class counsel and recommended to the court that UCAN receive the award.  Pictured above is Daniel Mogin (left) handing the check to UCAN’s Executive Director, Donald Kelly (right).  Cy pres awards are residual fundsin a class action lawsuit that cannot be distributed to people of the class. Courts then can distribute the remanding funds to nonprofit organizations whose work closely aligns with the subject of the class action litigation.

IMAG1712

Membership / Fundraising Committee

  • Murtaza Baxamusa, Chair
  • Grant Bergman
  • Hawley Ridenour
  • Pat Zaharopoulos

 

Outreach / PR Committee

  • Nancy Hartley, Chair
  • Grant Bergman
  • Neil Lynch
  • Christine Mailloux
  • Hawley Ridenour
  • Pat Zaharopoulos

 

Audit / Finance Committee

  • Kim Peck, Chair
  • Hawley Ridenour
  • Christine Mailloux

Special FAQ - UCAN 2011-2013

Many long-time UCAN supporters know the organization experienced tremendous upheaval starting in 2011. When I agreed to become UCAN’s Executive Director almost a year ago, it was clear that UCAN would have to rebuild credibility: with members, the media and the general public. Over the last several months, people have asked repeatedly about recent events at UCAN and how those events will shape our future.

You have questions and you deserve answers.

The following series of FAQ’s addresses the most common questions we’re asked these days. In keeping with UCAN’s new commitments regarding transparency, these FAQ’s are backed up with links to a great deal of additional documentation for those who want more details. I firmly believe that, as a public service organization, UCAN has to be an example of the openness and transparency that we demand from our utilities and regulators. While I am absolutely committed to UCAN's transparency, please understand that because UCAN is involved in litigation, we may not be able to answer all questions you may have at the present time. I hope these FAQ’s answer your main concerns. My commitment is that we’ll revise and add to them until they do, so please let me know any additional questions, comments or concerns about what you read here by sending me an email at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Donald Kelly
Executive Director
November 6, 2013

For all the years I have supported UCAN, Michael Shames was its leader and his name was synonymous with UCAN. What happened?

Michael Shames co-founded UCAN and was its Executive Director for 28 years. He represented ratepayers effectively, but was subject to formal accusations of impropriety by UCAN staffers. On March 4, 2011, in a letter to the UCAN Board of Directors, staff attorney David Peffer made specific allegations against Mr. Shames. 

The whistleblowers retained counsel and considered legal action against UCAN and its Board. Even though these events were proceeding UCAN still advocated for the public before the California Public Utilities Commission, for the balance of 2011 a significant amount of UCAN’s energies and finances were used to investigate the allegations against Michael Shames.

In February 2012 UCAN filed for court-supervised dissolution. UCAN’s Board approved this filing because of the ongoing legal wrangling which threatened UCAN’s financial viability. Through the dissolution a court-appointed “receiver” would examine outstanding claims on UCAN funds, and help to determine the disposition of any remaining assets, consistent with both their original intended purpose and the law.

With the filing of UCAN’s court supervised dissolution action, the whistleblowers filed their own lawsuit against UCAN. The lawsuit alleged, among other things, that the UCAN Board of Directors failed to protect the charity.  The whistleblowers’ lawsuit received extensive coverage in both the San Diego Reader and the UT San Diego. At roughly the same time, UCAN received a federal grand jury subpoena related to an investigation of Mr. Shames and the whistleblower allegations. To date no charges have been issued in that investigation, and UCAN ‘s attorney believes no charges are likely to result against UCAN from any criminal probe. UCAN has complied fully with investigators’ requests.

UT San Diego Articles


San Diego Reader Articles

Ultimately UCAN, the whistleblowers, the receiver and the court reached a settlement that permitted UCAN to continue operations, but required the UCAN Board of Directors to replace 4 of the 5 then sitting Board members, and UCAN agreed to employ the Whistleblowers to the end of 2012. UCAN’s dissolution action was thus withdrawn. Mr. Shames was terminated from UCAN in June of 2012.

UT San Diego Articles

San Diego Reader Articles

Since Mr. Shames left UCAN employment, UCAN’s new leadership still had some remaining issues to address, though. In particular, the Board consulted with the California Attorney General’s Office regarding past bonuses paid to Shames. As a result of information received from the Attorney General’s Office, UCAN dispatched a letter to Shames requesting return of $474,019 in past bonus payments. To date Mr. Shames has not paid any money back to UCAN and on April 29, 2013, UCAN sued him for $474,019. UCAN also seeks punitive damages.
Current Executive Director, Donald Kelly, was hired by the new UCAN Board and started on November 20, 2012. Whistleblowers Peffer and Langley continued with UCAN until April and June of 2013, respectively.

On February 28, 2013 Michael Shames filed his lawsuit against UCAN, the whistleblower David Peffer and his attorney (Michael Aguirre) for a range of claims, including libel. UCAN’s response to this suit came in two parts:
  1. UCAN filed a cross-complaint against Shames for breach of fiduciary duties related to the bonuses that he had improperly collected.
  2. UCAN filed an Anti-SLAPP Special Motion. This motion claimed that Shames’ complaint was a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” an attempt by Shames to use the courts to intimidate UCAN from speaking out publicly on matters of public interest,

The Anti-SLAPP motion prevailed and so the main claims against UCAN and Aguirre were dismissed in 2013. In February 2014, the court ordered Michael Shames to pay UCAN, Peffer and Aguirre their attorneys fees for bringing the Anti-SLAPP motion. UCAN’s cross-complaint for the return of unauthorized bonuses is still pending.

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About UCAN

UCAN has represented the interests of San Diego County utility customers since 1983. UCAN focuses its efforts on the rates and services of San Diego Gas and Electric Company, telecommunications utilities and the City of San Diego Water Department.

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