First Potential Class Action Suit Filed in Wine Country Fires

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Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

A Santa Monica class action law firm filed the first of what will probably be hundreds of lawsuits blaming the Wine Country firestorms on Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E).

Bill Robbins, as the managing partner of Robins Cloud LLP, filed a complaint against PG&E in the Superior Court of San Francisco on behalf of Jennifer and Wayne Harvell, who lost their Santa Rosa home during the fires. The lawsuit claims that California’s largest utility failed to properly maintain power lines and adequately clear brush as required by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC).

Robbins was traveling Wednesday and unable to comment on the status of the litigation. But his office stated that he would be flying to the Wine Country and would be hosting a press conference regarding other clients that may soon join the suit.

Under CPUC rule General Order 95 – Rules 35 and 37: “Where overhead conductors traverse trees and vegetation, safety and reliability of service demand that certain vegetation management activities be performed in order to establish necessary and reasonable clearances.” The CPUC currently requires firebreaks of “not less than 10 feet in each direction from the outer edge” of any tower or electrical transmission line.

But tree trimming has become a controversial environmental issue for the Democrat majority in California’s legislature. “AB-2556: Electrical lines: trimming of trees,” was voted out of a State Assembly committee on a straight Democratic Party line and sent to the floor in 2012 to prohibit removing any tree “unless the tree is dead, rotten, or diseased.” The bill would also require 120-day public notice before tree removal.

The CPUC and all the state’s utilities opposed the bill, because it “would harm the CPUC’s objective of ensuring the safety and reliability of the overhead electric system.” The bill died on the Assembly floor, but utilities got the message to restrict tree trimming.

Breitbart News reported on October 14 that that Sonoma and Napa County emergency dispatchers sent crews last week to investigate reports of over a dozen downed powerlines and numerous exploding transformers. PG&E warned that its electrical lines are only rated up to handle 56-mile an hour winds, but had been hit with hurricane force gusts that exceeded 75-miles per hour.

Breitbart News also reported that the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) issued a detainer request on the Sonoma County Jail for Jesus Fabian Gonzalez, who was arrested Sunday on suspicion of arson in at least on Wine Country fire.

Although Sonoma County supervisors and the Santa Rosa City voted to be “sanctuaries” on February 6, 2017, Sonoma County Sheriffs arrested Jesus Fabian Gonzalez, 29, on suspicion of felony arson and booked him at the Sonoma County Jail on October 14, after a series of reports of ongoing fires in the region. Mr. Gonzalez was reportedly observed around 3:00 p.m. PDT wearing a jacket and walking “out of the creek area and a plume of smoke behind him.”

The Los Angeles Times reported on October 18, “Some homeless people who knew Gonzalez said that he had a habit of setting fire to brush along the creek bed.” The Times quoted David Moreno, 29, who witnessed Jesus Fabian Gonzalez screaming at the sheriffs when he was arrested: ‘I’m going to teach you a lesson you’ll never forget.”

The Sonoma County Jail told Breitbart News that Gonzalez is also subject to a $100,000 bench warrant issued in Ventura County. According to the Ventura County Courts’ website, $100,000 bail is for individuals that are alleged to have committed extremely serious crimes.


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