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King Hall Hosts the California Public Utilities Commission

Posted By Kevin R. Johnson, Mar 3, 2017

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The California Public Utilities Commission held a meeting at King Hall yesterday.  The CPUC is reaching out to different communities by holding meetings away from its main offices in San Francisco.  I had the privilege of welcoming the CPUC to UC Davis School of Law.

The meeting was held in our Kalmanovitz Appellate Courtroom. This room has held oral arguments of the California Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Ninth Circuit, and California Courts of Appeals, Third District, as well as the one and only debate between Kamala Harris and Steve Cooley in the 2010 California Attorney General race. 

I always take pride in highlighting how our building is named after Martin Luther King Jr. and how Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren spoke at the dedication of the building.

I also thanked the California Public Utilities Commission and the commissioners for visiting King Hall and for providing our students and faculty with this incredible educational opportunity.  It was very nice to see old friends, including CPUC Commissioner (and former King Hall visiting professor) Cliff Rechtschaffen, a college friend (whom I outdueled in many 10Ks and marathons) and Administrative Law Judge Steve Roscow, and Chief Administrative Law Judge Karen Clopton, who I worked with on the California Bar’s Council on Access and Fairness.

Law students have good reason to be extremely interested in the CPUC.  It is not only because the agency employs many attorneys, and many work with it representing stakeholders in the regulatory process.  The CPUC allows a fascinating vantage point to watch the democratic process interact with the companies that Californians depend on for electric power, gas, water, telecommunications service, and transportation.

The CPUC’s roots trace back to the California Constitution of 1879, which granted the state the authority to regulate public utilities.  At that time, the primary regulatory concern was the railroad industry.  The Railroad Commission was an attempt by the people of California to bring democracy into the operation of an industry that had enormous impacts on their lives.  Today, we are also concerned about our ability to have a say over the operations of wireless service providers, the greenhouse gas emissions of power plants, and transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft. But the core issue remain the same — how to bring the public interest directly into the process of operating these industries.

UC Davis has a special interest in regulatory matters.  And not simply an academic one.  A retired King Hall professor, Dan Fessler served on the CPUC.  Professor Ashutosh Bhagwat serves on the Board of Governors of the California Independent System Operator, which sees the high voltage electricity grid in California.  Professor Richard Frank has been deeply involved in environmental regulation and helped to bring the CPUC to UC Davis.

Thanks again to the Commission for holding its meeting at King Hall!