Letters to the Editor: The Getty fire wasn’t an ‘act of God,’ and L.A. taxpayers might get burned

Getty fire
Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin and Mayor Eric Garcetti tour a burned home in Brentwood on Oct. 29.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: While Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti can attribute the Getty fire, sparked by a branch blown across a highway into a power line, to an “act of God,” the fact is that the city’s Department of Water and Power faces liability for all damages resulting from the fire.

That’s because California courts apply inverse condemnation to all utilities, including public utilities, which has been fine with California’s leaders and courts as long as the liability fell on the shareholders of the investor-owned utilities.

What’s different now? The city of Los Angeles faces the very real possibility of serving as a financial backstop if the DWP cannot cover the costs of the Getty fire.

California’s practice of holding utilities strictly liable for wildfires, regardless of fault, is broken. Fire victims need help, but bankrupting utilities isn’t the answer. The Legislature must fix inverse condemnation or risk the solvency of California’s utilities and the communities and customers they serve.


Margaret Peloso, Chadds Ford, Pa.

The writer is an attorney specializing in environmental law and climate change.