New beginnings in San Bruno after pipeline disaster


May 14, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
It has been almost two years since a deadly PG&E gas pipeline explosion tore through a San Bruno neighborhood.

On Monday, the city of San Bruno hosted a ceremony to welcome residents back to the area near Claremont Drive between Glenview and Fairmont, acknowledging all the residents who have made any kinds of repairs or rebuilt their homes from scratch. That all happened the same day PG&E held its annual shareholders' meeting.

It has taken a long time for the Pelligrinis to rebuild their home. "Basically, I was living out of a suitcase for two years now," Ed Pelligrini says. The fire burned down their one-story three-bedroom home. Now, they'll be moving into a brand new two-story five-bedroom house. Down the street, Bill Magoolaghan and his family have already settled down in their new house. The city says two of the 38 who lost their homes are also about to return; twenty-three are still rebuilding. The status of the lots of 13 others is still unclear.

Tony Earley, the new head of PG&E, says resolving all the lawsuits is one of his top priorities. "We're not ever going to contest liability. We want to get to resolving these issues," he says. But he adds that it's taking time because negotiations are complicated since there are so many lawyers representing victims.

Assm. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, chose the day of the shareholders meeting to introduce legislation that would punish top utility executives if their companies violate safety regulations. Among the penalties is requiring top management to return performance bonuses if the company is penalized for safety violations. Hill's legislation would also ban ratepayer money from being used for executive bonuses. It would also subject top executives to fines of up to $1 million for each safety violation

Hill points out that the former chair of PG&E, Peter Darby, left the company with a $39 million package despite what happened in San Bruno.

Teddy Bernardo's new home is nothing like his house that burned down a year-and-a half ago. Everything is different, from the floor plan to the finishes, but the memory of what happened on September 9, 2010 is still very vivid.

"The emotion is still going to be there you know in terms of fear and remind you of what happened and the trauma. But at one point you just have to move on," said Bernardo.

Bernardo is one of three homeowners who were honored by the city of San Bruno. They are the first to rebuild and move back into the Crestmoor Neighborhood after the PG&E pipeline explosion.

"This is a good evening for us. Today's a day that we've waited for a very long time," said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane.

The Hensels chose to use the same exact floor plan they had before, but even then, the whole process of rebuilding and going through the insurance company was exhausting.

"I don't know how people that work, how they're able to do that. I'm retired. It was like a full time job doing this," said Bob Hensel.

But as time consuming as it was, the Pellegrinis made sure they got their dream home out of all the trauma they went through. They expanded their home by more than 1,000 feet. They're now in debt, but Tina Pellegrini says it feels good to be back in the neighborhood.

"I will never forget what happened, but I also accept what happened and that right there is a big part of letting yourself heal," said Tina.

City leaders plan to hold similar ceremonies every three to four months to honor each wave of residents who move back to the neighborhood.

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