PG&E exec. resigns in wake of Calif pipeline blast

April 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The man blamed for creating the corporate culture that allowed the San Bruno pipeline blast is out. On Thursday, PG&E's top executive gave-in and announced his resignation, but CEO Peter Darbee is not leaving penniless -- not by a long shot.

Darbee's retirement package is in the tens of millions of dollars, which critics say is undeserved, especially for someone they say is responsible for creating a culture of cutting corners.

Six years after becoming CEO and president of PG&E, Darbee is stepping down. Mark Toney of the utility watchdog group TURN says Darbee's resignation is long overdue.

"There was a lack of organizational discipline. We feel it was just a company that was not well run. The problem we feel is that because profits were put in front of people, that's where the shortcuts came from," said Toney.

And those apparent shortcuts are what critics of PG&E say led to September's pipeline explosion in San Bruno. Eight people were killed in the fire and dozens of homes were destroyed. Since that disaster, PG&E's sloppy record-keeping has come to light, as well as questionable maintenance practices. Which is why many people are outraged that Darbee will be leaving with an eight-figure golden parachute. According to a regulatory filing submitted last month, Darbee's retirement package will total nearly $35 million.

Gayle Masunu and her mother, Loretta, lost their home in the blast and now live in a rental.

"That's not right, that's not right at all. Why should he resign and he gets this money? I don't think so," said Gayle.

Consumer groups plan to urge state regulators to block Darbee's retirement package or at least make sure shareholders, and not rate payers, end up paying for it. As to who will ultimately replace Darbee, Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, says he hopes PG&E's board of directors brings in an outsider.

"The culture starts at the top and in order to change that culture we need to change the leadership. And that's what's occurred and hopefully they'll bring someone in someone is who has a mindset, perhaps an engineer, someone who understands the industry, just as the other utilities have," said Hill.

Darbee will step down at the end of the month. PG&E board member Lee Cox will serve as interim chairman, CEO and president until the board finds a permanent replacement.

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