After the San Onofre nuclear power plant closed earlier than expected last year, some residents say they've been kept in the dark — at least when it comes to information.
Community members sounded off on a proposed settlement agreement related to costs at the decommissioned plant during a public meeting Monday held by the California Public Utilities Commission.
More than 75 people settled into the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center to hear or provide testimony on the settlement, which was reached by Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas and Electric and other parties and announced earlier this year.
If approved, the deal would apportion $3.3 billion to ratepayers and $1.4 billion to utility shareholders to cover a $4.7-billion price tag for utility investments, replacement power and ongoing maintenance at the plant.
While supporters claimed it was time to accept the compromise as a win and to move forward, detractors demanded to know more about what went wrong at the plant, where newly installed steam generators leaked a small amount of radioactivity.
"The utilities like you to be in the dark," said Ray Lutz, founder of Citizens Oversight Projects, which opposes the settlement, after lamenting to the audience that he was not being allowed to project a slide show. (He brought printed copies nonetheless.)
"It's a cover-up," he alleged. "It's a $3.3-billion cover-up. And the executives are getting away with their big take."
The commission had begun an investigation, but many expressed concern that the settlement would end the probe prematurely, preventing others from learning from mistakes that had been made at the plant.
Several pointed fingers and raised their voices, telling the commission that it has an obligation to not only to ensure that ratepayers are treated fairly but also to figure out exactly what went wrong for the greater public good.
"Most people could tell you that when there's a lawsuit, you need to get documents," said William Bibb, an attorney based in Encinitas. "How can we question people based on documents that we don't have?"
Following Bibb's remarks, San Diego resident Tara Covington placed a small, stuffed kangaroo toy on the podium to convey her belief that the commission's behavior resembled the disregard of a kangaroo court.
"The devil lies in the details," she said, also calling for further work to be done: "You're not allowing a full review. You're not allowing a full investigation."
Still, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido urged the commission to support the settlement agreement at what he called a "pivotal point" for the community.
He argued that the world was quickly changing, especially as energy technology continues to develop.
"We have to move on because we have business to do," he said, later adding, "We don't have time to sit around and get behind the eight ball."
Members of several area chambers of commerce said accepting the settlement would be step in the right direction for business owners.
"We support this settlement because it means real money for real people in real time," said Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network, which was also a party to the settlement.
The commission expects an initial opinion will be ready in six to eight weeks.
"You will be heroes if you just say 'wait,'" urged Toni Iseman, a Laguna Beach councilwoman, who said she was speaking as an individual rather than on behalf of her council.