The Pure Water San Diego demonstration plant in Miramar. Courtesy of the city

The city is suing San Diego Gas & Electric for what officials call the utility’s refusal to honor promises made when it obtained exclusive rights to provide gas and electricity to San Diegans in 1971.

As the city moves forward with its Pure Water San Diego Program, which will reduce ocean pollution and increase San Diego’s water supply, SDG&E has failed to relocate at its own expense its underground infrastructure that obstructs the city project, which it is required to do under the terms of its contract with the city, said City Attorney Mara Elliott, who made the announcement Wednesday.

In June 2018, the city says, SDG&E refused to undertake design and relocation work for Phase 1 of the program unless the city fronted the money.

City of San Diego complaint against SDG&E. (PDF)

To avoid a costly delay, the city provided initial funding of $35,578,521 to SDG&E to begin the work. Despite months of discussion, the parties have been unable to resolve this dispute short of litigation, the city said.

“It’s unfortunate that a lawsuit is needed to compel our longtime partner to honor the terms of its contract with the city,” Elliott said. “Pure Water is critical to protecting the ocean from pollution and increasing our water independence. This program cannot be compromised by further delays.”

SDG&E communications manager Wes Jones said: “While we generally do not comment on pending litigation, broadly speaking, SDG&E does not believe the relocation costs of this City of San Diego water project should be spread to customers in the other cities within our service area. We look forward to resolving this matter as quickly as possible.”

The lawsuit, approved by a unanimous vote of the City Council on Oct. 22, 2019, seeks to recoup the city’s $35,578,521 and force SDG&E to honor the explicit terms of its franchise agreements. It was filed in San Diego Superior Court.

In 2014, the City Council approved the Pure Water San Diego Program to divert sewage flow away from the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant and convert it into potable water through purification technology.

The city says the Pure Water program will make San Diego more water independent, and provide a safe, secure and sustainable local water supply.

Phase 1 of the program will create 30 million gallons a day of potable water and is scheduled to be completed in 2023, the city said.

In December 2018, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the $3 billion water project was being hamstrung by SDG&E.

“According to SDG&E, moving all of the equipment will cost $98.8 million through June 2020 — and the company is unwilling to pass those costs along to customers, who already pay some of the highest electricity rates in the nation,” the U-T said.

SDG&E said at the time: “We are cooperating with the city and working towards an agreement that helps safeguard the interests of all SDG&E customers,” it said. “The project team is currently exploring select areas in the project plans that could be redesigned to reduce the amount of utility relocations thus reducing costs, saving time and reducing environmental impacts.”

Updated at 11:50 a.m. Jan. 17, 2020

Show comments