Horror abounds as CPUC considers streamlining public housing grants

16 February 2014 by Steve Blum
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The terror of a legal haircut.

Another month has been added to the timeline for accepting grant applications for broadband facilities and marketing programs in public housing projects, as the California Public Utilities Commission wrestles with how to set up and run the program, which was created by the legislature last year. And if the commission’s office of ratepayer advocates has its way, the process will take even longer.

The ORA critiques what commissioners and the rest of the CPUC staff propose to do – after all, you can’t just leave the job up to the multitude of public advocacy groups that the commission also pays to offer advice – and it has weighed in on a proposed plan for making a plan to propose rules for the public housing subsidy program. One idea that was floated was to speed things up by eliminating the need for commissioners to vote on each individual grant application, a laborious process that involves the preparation and, well, critique of long, legalistic draft resolutions. ORA’s staff attorneys were gobsmacked

ORA finds it shocking that the CPUC would consider less oversight, public input, and transparency when awarding ratepayer funds. The resolution process makes the Commission’s decision-making transparent, which is a necessary part of the public process. For these reasons, ORA submits that the Commission must approve each grant and loan under this program.

The counter argument is that standard commission procedures eat up a lot of staff time and add months of delays, which also burns ratepayer money and, incidentally, makes it very difficult for members of the public to follow what’s going on. Commissioners and staff are, for example, still chewing through the stack of California Advanced Services Fund applications they received more than a year ago. The process for vetting future grant and loan applications – for broadband infrastructure or public housing programs – needs to be rationalised and streamlined, not further ossified. Speedy reviews done according to concise, clearly written rules will do a lot more to add transparency to the process than wrapping it in layers of red tape.