Herrera sues PG&E for costs over negligent work that caused landslide and damaged homes

PG&E’s shoddy work resulted in a Casitas Avenue landslide that destroyed one home and damaged five others, leaving the city to foot the nearly $8 million bill 

SAN FRANCISCO (Oct. 18, 2017) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today announced he had filed a lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric Company to recover all costs — currently almost $8 million — associated with a landslide caused by the company’s negligent work that destroyed one home and damaged five others.

To date, San Francisco has paid nearly $7 million in claims to homeowners, plus spent another roughly $1 million on construction contingencies, attorneys fees and other related costs. Investor-owned monopoly PG&E has failed to take responsibility for the damage it caused or take any action to correct their negligent work, forcing San Francisco to file suit to protect taxpayers and recover costs from the landslide. The lawsuit comes after a thorough investigation by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the City Attorney’s Office revealed PG&E’s role in the landslide.

The landslide occurred in late January 2016 on the slope between Casitas and Miraloma avenues. PG&E had recently relocated two gas distribution lines on the west side of Casitas Avenue from under the sidewalk to under the street, altering the conditions at the top of the slope, which became a substantial factor in causing the landslide.

“Homeowners were faced with a dangerous situation when their houses were suddenly threatened by this landslide,” Herrera said. “The city quickly took action to assess the situation and ensure everyone’s safety. Then we worked with homeowners to get them back into their homes after the situation was under control. PG&E’s shoddy work caused this problem, but the company is trying to shirk its responsibility. PG&E has used its monopoly to make countless billions of dollars off San Francisco residents, yet they are refusing to take any responsibility for their negligent actions. That kind of shamelessness would be astounding if it weren’t for PG&E’s track record of putting profits ahead of public safety. No more. I will fight to ensure that this company is held accountable. We are going to protect our residents and our taxpayers.”

The problem began when PG&E’s Gas Line Relocation Project materially altered the relationship between their gas lines and the city’s water pipes. Historically, the gas lines were located under the sidewalk away from the city’s water main and service lateral connections in the street. During relocation, PG&E placed its new gas lines in Casitas Avenue, directly adjacent to the water main and running perpendicular to and beneath the service lateral connections. In addition to this, PG&E made at least two critical mistakes: failing to properly bed the new gas lines in the right material and failing to adequately compact the soil in the trench.

Instead PG&E backfilled the trench with clayey sand and gravel and never achieved 95 percent relative compaction at any depth tested. The poor bedding and uncompacted backfill then subjected at least one water lateral servicing 234 Casitas to fatal stresses. When heavy vehicles, like garbage trucks, traveled along Casitas Avenue after the project, the poorly compacted backfill compressed, causing the lateral at 234 Casitas to break at the point where it connected to the water main. The resulting leak flowed into the newly constructed adjacent and uncompacted trench, which acted like a storm drain, redirecting the water onto the landslide slope and masking any surface manifestation and/or early detection of the leak. Had it not been for PG&E’s work, the landslide would not have happened.

To date, the city has paid out more than $6.7 million to six homeowners damaged by the landslide and has incurred $600,000 in construction contingencies and more than $500,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs dealing with the matter. In addition, if PG&E does not correct its construction defects creating the conditions that caused the landslide, the city will incur significant costs to relocate its water main located on Casitas Avenue.

PG&E is authorized to provide gas and electric services in San Francisco by franchise agreements the city approved in 1939. Since then the company has made billions of dollars from its revenues within the city, including $187 million just from gas sales within the city in 2014. The agreement also obligates PG&E to pay San Francisco for the costs of all repairs to public property caused by the company’s work.

Herrera is asking the court to declare that PG&E’s Gas Line Relocation Project was a substantial factor that caused the landslide and order the utility to take steps to correct the construction defects in its gas pipe relocation trench or pay the city’s costs to relocate its water pipes. He is also asking the court to order PG&E to cover costs, damages and attorney fees associated with the landslide.

The case is: City and County of San Francisco v. Pacific Gas and Electric Company et al., San Francisco Superior Court case no. CGC-17-561957, filed Oct. 18, 2017. Additional documentation from the case is available on the City Attorney’s website at: https://www.sfcityattorney.org/.

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