Supreme Court Rejects Chino Hills Appeal; Fate Now Rests With PUC

CHINO HILLS—The city of Chino Hills’ options for legal recourse in blocking the Tehachapi Line have been exhausted with the state Supreme Court’s refusal last week to review the city’s failed lawsuit against the installation of high-voltage power wires through the city.

The city’s lone hope in averting the permanent imposition of 200-foot high transmission towers through a significant portion of the city now rests with the state Public Utilities Commission, the same entity that three years ago gave go-ahead to the project but which is now reviewing that decision.

In seeking to meet state-mandated renewable energy goals, Southern California Edison has undertaken the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project, which is intended to generate at least 1,500 megawatts of power from new windmills to be erected within a 50-square mile windfield in the Tehachapi area, an undertaking three times the size of any existing wind farm in the United States.

To convey that power to the urbanized population centers of the Southland, Southern California Edison is utilizing its existing power corridors and easements, including a long-extant but less intensely used corridor through upscale Chino Hills.

Chino Hills, where homes typically list in the $400,000 range even in the currently down real estate market, is the most densely populated area through which the transmission lines will span. Chino Hills residents, convinced the power lines represent a negative impact on both their quality of life and property values, resisted the imposition of the corridor. For some time, through the auspices of City Hall and with the assistance of other champions, such as state Assemblyman Kurt Hagman, Chino Hills officials importuned Sacramento to do something to deliver them from the burden of the transmission lines traversing their community. While the environmental assessment for the transmission lines was being done, city officials floated a proposal to reroute a span of the power transmission line through Chino Hills State Park to keep it from passing through the city. That concept was shot down and the public utilities commission approved the line in most respects as Edison proposed it. Hagman, who was formerly Chino Hills mayor, introduced legislation, AB 2662, a bill that would have prohibited an electrical corporation from constructing substantially larger transmission towers in an easement intended for smaller transmission towers when the easement runs through an occupied residential area. That bill died at the committee stage.

The city of Chino Hills then sued Edison last year, claiming the company had “overburdened” the easements. That effort failed when West Valley Superior Court Judge Keith D. Davis ruled the California Public Utilities Commission has exclusive jurisdiction regarding the route used by Edison and that the matter fell entirely out of the Superior Court’s purview. Davis threw the suit out.

Chino Hills appealed Davis’s ruling to the 4th District Court of Appeal, asserting the city has the right to have the case heard by a jury because the Public Utilities Commission did not employ a standard set of guidelines in approving the placement of the Tehachapi line project. Rather, according to the city, the PUC allowed the imperative of completing the transmission line to facilitate the wind power project to take precedence over policy and safety and aesthetic guidelines, which should have been considered and adhered to as part of the approval process.

On June 29 Chino Hills assistant city attorney Elizabeth Calciano sought to convince a three-judge that Davis had erred when he ruled the California Public Utilities Commission possessed the authority to permit Southern California Edison to erect the towers.

But on September 12, the 4th District Court of Appeal panel, consisting of associate justices Betty Richli, Carol Dodrington and Jeff King, turned back the city of Chino Hills’ challenge and affirmed Davis’ 2010 Superior Court decision, ruling that the California Public Utilities Commission has exclusive jurisdiction over property rights issues between the city and Edison.

The city then petitioned the state Supreme Court to examine the issue and both Davis’s and the 4th District Court of Appeal’s findings.

Chino Hills assistant city attorney Elizabeth Calciano was informed December 21 that the Supreme Court declined to review the appellate court’s decision.

Michael Peevey

To date, the city of Chino Hills has expended $2.4 million in the effort to prevent the towers from being erected in its jurisdiction. Several of the towers are now in place. Even as the towers were being erected in October, mayor Ed Graham and city manager Mike Fleager escorted the president of the California Public Utilities Commission, Michael Peevey, around town, giving him a visual demonstration of the ominous nature of the towers and importuning him to have the commission reconsider its permitting of the line. In the presence of Chino Hills officials, Peevey was polite and indulgent, but restrained in his response, offering hope, but no promises. In email correspondences with some Chino Hills residents, Peevey indicated his visit to Chino Hills where he was actually able to see the 200-foot towers, had given him a new perspective. Since then, four of his utilities commission colleagues have sojourned to Chino Hills to see the towers. Since the permits were given by the commission, three of those members have left and been replaced by others who did not participate in the original vote.

In November the commission temporarily halted Edison’s construction and ordered the company to produce by January 10 an explanation/justification for continuing with the above ground route that is in progress. City officials and residents are pressing for a rerouting through Chino Hills State Park, a reduction in the height of the towers or undergrounding of the lines.

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