Fabian Padilla, a former Southern California Gas Company employee who was at the meeting, said utilities lobbied for the prohibition to avoid liability if valves were improperly installed on the gas company's side.
Brooks cited the CPUC's general orders when asked whether the company could assume responsibility for installing shutoff valves on their lines and said they would have to be responsible for the valves as well. He didn't know if that was something the company would be willing to do.
After the meeting, Padilla told us, "It's obvious that the best way to do it is on the gas company's side of the meter." Padilla, who is now president of Affordable Safety Solutions Inc. (ASSI), a company that designs and distributes earthquake gas safety devices and specializes in automatic shutoff valves, thinks company-side installation is easier and more economical because the lines are smaller, the gas doesn't have to be turned off to install the valves, and in San Francisco's case, where the meters are under the buildings and difficult to reach, it's easier to install them elsewhere.
Cost is the other major factor. Padilla said he offers valves and installations for $245 to his Southern California customers. The DBI estimated costs between $250 and $600 per meter, which becomes a pricey endeavor for multiple-dwelling buildings where each unit has its own meter and consequently, its own automatic shutoff valve.
It's a cost some are concerned that landlords would defer to the tenants. A few hundred dollars for a valve may seem like a worthy investment to most homeowners, and even though your neighbors also benefit when your house doesn't blow up, not everyone may be willing to throw down for the lifesavers.
The cost to install valves in every household could be enormous, but city officials at the meeting seemed unwilling to issue a mandate without offering some kind of financial assistance. Though it seems unlikely that PG&E would incur the costs as a good-neighbor gesture, the possibility of funding from the city's office of emergency services or the Federal Emergency Management Agency is being considered. Officials said more research and risk assessment needed to be done, and meetings are being scheduled where the key questions of who pays, where the valves will go, and whether they will be put into widespread use before the big one may get answered.
"It's very important that we resolve this issue," Walker said to us after the meeting. "There are challenges around where these valves are and who will be responsible." SFBG
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