Public Gets a Voice in Utility Cases

Southland utility customers who want to make their voices heard before the California Public Utilities Commission decides important rate cases should have an easier time of it with the opening this week of a PUC "public adviser's" office in the State Office Building at First Street and Broadway in Los Angeles.

Legislation carried by Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles) provided the $162,000 annual funding needed to open the Southland office, and Rosenthal said he will introduce a bill this year to open a similar office in San Diego.

"There has always been an office at the PUC to complain about high utility rates," Rosenthal said, "but the public adviser's office is special because it helps people actually get involved in the process of determining what telephone and energy rates and services are fair."

Until now, consumers were forced to deal with an office in San Francisco, where the PUC is headquartered. "The PUC meets in San Francisco, but most utility customers live in the Los Angeles area," Rosenthal said. "In the future, we'll insist that the PUC, when it is dealing with Southern California Edison's rates, come to Los Angeles."

Robert Feraru, who heads the statewide public adviser program from San Francisco, said the new office does not handle service and billing complaints, which should be addressed to the PUC's consumer affairs division. "We don't speak for people," Feraru emphasized, "but we help them speak better in their own behalf."

Public hearings in Southern California Edison's pending rate case will be held around its service area from April 13 to April 25, Feraru said. The five commissioners themselves will make a rare trip to the Southland together on April 20 to hear public views of the case in the Pomona City Hall, he added.

And Southern California hearings will be scheduled next month also for General Telephone's pending rate case.

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