SAN FRANCISCO – In an impressive display of David besting Goliath, a group of Sacramento residents succeeded Thursday in blocking a $70 million plan to store 7.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas beneath their working class neighborhood.
The California Public Utilities Commission, in a 3-2 vote, rejected the plan by Sacramento Natural Gas Storage LLC to store the gas 3,800 feet below the Avondale/Glen Elder neighborhood in southeast Sacramento.
It was a post-San Bruno moment. That Sept. 10, 2010, explosion of a 30-inch gas transmission line killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. And it redefined how three PUC commissioners weighed this project.
"Do I think it's likely there would be a problem? No," declared PUC Commissioner Michel Peter Florio shortly before his vote to reject. "But as we've seen in many recent events … things do happen that we don't expect.
"In this instance, I think it's simply a risk too big to take, given the marginal need for this facility."
Following the San Bruno explosion, Florio has said, the PUC "renewed and strengthened" its commitment to safety.
When Thursday's hearing ended, 30 opponents of the project walked out of the PUC headquarters in San Francisco, posed for pictures and cheered loudly.
"I don't even think I believe it yet," said Constance Slider Pierre, who was pivotal in rallying opponents in the neighborhood.
"This has been five-plus years in the making and it has been an incredible battle, one of the biggest of my personal life and of this community's existence," she said.
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Slider said the association initially felt outmatched. She turned to Colin Bailey, staff attorney for Legal Services of Northern California. He signed on for what turned out to be five years of work on behalf of the neighborhood association.
Bailey, in turn, reached out to Christopher J. Butcher of the Thomas Law Group in Sacramento. About 18 months ago, attorney Kara Ueda joined the pro bono effort.
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