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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA NEWS

Landowners Score Victory Against Gas Co.

September 08, 2000

MONTEBELLO — More than 500 Montebello landowners who contend they were cheated by Southern California Gas Co. won a bitter victory Thursday when the California Public Utilities Commission fined the giant utility nearly $3.5 million for allegedly forcing the property owners to sell their mineral rights at unfair prices and then lying to regulators.

The fine is part of a settlement that allows the property owners, many of whom are elderly, to undo the deals with the gas company. Southern California Gas must also develop an ethics course for its employees and those of other utilities.

Critics said the settlement, in which Southern California Gas admitted no wrongdoing, robs landowners of their chance at a public hearing and provides paltry punishment for the Los Angeles utility, which is owned by San Diego-based Sempra Energy.

The five commissioners unanimously approved the settlement after they received assurances that the $3.495-million fine would be paid by Sempra shareholders, not ratepayers. The fine, assessed for alleged misrepresentations to the utilities commission rather than to the landowners, will go to the state fund, not to the property holders.

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