PUC Orders Utilities to Release Sensitive Documents on Merger

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Opponents of Southern California Edison's proposed merger with San Diego Gas & Electric won a major victory Thursday when state officials ordered the utilities to release sensitive documents that the utilities had claimed as privileged information.

Edison will "turn over the requested documents as promptly as possible," Edison spokesman Lewis Phelps said Friday. "We had very legitimate reasons for choosing not to turn over the documents in question, but we will comply."

SDG&E;, however, might appeal the ruling issued Thursday by state Public Utilities Commission members G. Mitchell Wilk and Stanley W. Hulett. "We have a week to respond," SDG&E; spokesman David Smith said Friday.

The utilities were ordered to turn over disputed documents that have been requested by parties such as the City of San Diego that are playing active roles in the PUC's ongoing merger proceeding. However, the PUC has yet to determine if the documents would one day be released to the general public.

Hulett and Wilk issued the order to end a long-running debate that had threatened to stall the PUC's merger review. The two commissioners expressed concern that employee morale would suffer and that the companies would find it increasingly difficult to make long-range plans.

Edison is "very heartened by the commission's recognition of the importance of moving proceedings along promptly," Phelps said. "We want to move as promptly as possible because delay works against everybody, including our customers and employees."

The materials in question include:

* Documents describing Edison's nonregulated subsidiaries, including Mission Energy, a company that generates electricity that is sold back to Edison. One PUC division has alleged that Edison signed "sweetheart" contracts with Mission Energy. Wilk said the documents could be used only to clarify the prospective effects of the merger--but that merger opponents could not use them to litigate Edison's past business practices.

* Select minutes of Edison and SDG&E; board of directors meetings during which the proposed merger was discussed.

* Documents accumulated by O. Morris Sievert and Charles R. Scott, two San Diego businessmen who resigned from SDG&E;'s board to protest the proposed merger. During depositions conducted by the city of San Diego, Scott and Sievert have suggested that Edison unfairly pressured SDG&E;'s board to accept the merger offer.

The ruling cleared the way for the city of San Diego to resume those depositions. Sievert and Scott had volunteered to halt testimony until the PUC ruled on the utilities' claim that the former board members were prohibited from discussing how SDG&E; board members reacted to Edison's 1988 merger offer.

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