August 14, 1998


(AP) -San Diego officials have conceded they violated state open-meeting laws in a 1995 closed-door deal with a utility company, settling a lawsuit filed by a consumer interest group.

Members of the California Alliance for Utilities Safety and Education challenged the closed meetings between the City Council and the San Diego Gas Electric Co. The two groups were meeting over how much money the utility would pay to bury power lines throughout the city.

In the settlement with the consumer group, the city promised to conduct public hearings when a new deal is negotiated on burying power lines, Deputy City Attorney Frank Devaney said Thursday. The city will also pay $80,000 to cover the group's legal fees.

What remains intact is the agreement between the council and SDG which reduced the amount the utility must pay through 2000 by some $150 million and settled a dispute over owed franchise fees.

The city admitted that when the SDG deal went before the council for final approval at a public meeting, that it wasn't properly explained on the printed council agenda. However, private council discussions were proper under the open meeting law because the council was discussing an accounting dispute with SDG and a possible lawsuit, Devaney said.

Joan Tukey, a member of the consumer group, said the major contention was that the public wasn't properly informed of the issue.

``It's important that the city council listen to people and respond,'' she said.

The settlement was reached July 29 and made public this week.

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