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California and the West | THE CALIFORNIA ENERGY CRISIS

List of PG&E Creditors Shows Firm's Wide Reach in Business

Bankruptcy: It includes small and big companies, government agencies and former employees.

April 30, 2001|TIM REITERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — It reads like a phone book: Able Auto Body, Able Building Maintenance, Able Fence Co., Able Printing, Able Termite & Pest Control. . . .

These companies are among about 50,000 entries on Pacific Gas & Electric Co.'s roster of creditors recently filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Another company, A&J Electrical Cable Corp. of Hayward, has supplied PG&E with utility cables since 1980. But now the unpaid bills are hitting the $100,000 mark--and that is a big deal to a relatively small business.

"Who would ever think that PG&E would be in bankruptcy?" said owner Magdalene Reilly. "This is something affecting people. I've got a lot of paychecks on Friday.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday May 1, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
PG&E creditors--A chart accompanying a story Monday identified Bank of New York as a creditor listed in Pacific Gas & Electric Co.'s bankruptcy filing. A bank spokesman says that it is a trustee for holders of seven unsecured bonds totaling $2.2 billion but that the bank itself has no credit exposure.

"We have orders for the rest of the year [from PG&E]," she added. "It is a question: Do you decide to ship? . . . We probably will. They are a good customer."

When PG&E filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors April 6, businesses from California to Canada were caught by surprise. The names of the 20 biggest creditors, some with billion-dollar claims, were filed with the court. The utility also submitted a list of potential creditors--more than 3,500 pages worth.

The roster speaks to the remarkable economic clout and reach of a company that prospered for almost a century before plunging into the third-biggest bankruptcy case in U.S. history. It provides a glimpse into the relationships between a giant utility--the state's largest--and businesses of all sorts and sizes. And it underscores the high stakes as a bankruptcy judge reorders PG&E's financial affairs and decides in the coming months, if not years, who should be paid and how much.

The case, said U.S. bankruptcy trustee Linda Ekstrom Stanley, "has a ripple effect. . . . Creditors are affected, and they can't pay their bills either."

There are small companies and conglomerates that sold power to PG&E.

There are financial institutions from Wall Street to San Francisco's Montgomery Street that lent money or provided services.

There are government agencies at all levels, even the California Public Utilities Commission.

There are some retired PG&E employees and officers, including at least one of the company's former chief executive officers.

But there also are vendors that have provided goods and services to PG&E for years: tree trimming around power lines, bodywork for the utility's truck fleet, fencing for its vast land holdings, calibration of meters, fans to cool electrical transformers, printing of brochures, signs for office doors, flight suits for aviators who patrol power lines, limousine service for traveling executives.

No dollar amounts are attached to names on the master list. But records and interviews with dozens of creditors show that the sums owed range from hundreds of millions of dollars to very little--or nothing at all. Many of the smaller creditors were unaware they were on the roster until contacted by The Times.

PG&E used to buy pump filters from California Pump & Supply in Sacramento.

"We just closed out their account because they owed us $29," said office manager Lisa Giordano. "It's a hassle to get anyone over there. I just wrote it off."

The utility bought $38 worth of plants from Forest Nursery in Los Osos, west of San Luis Obispo. "It's nothing to go to court about, especially since they paid it," said bookkeeper Lori Parsons.

A wine wholesaler, an ice cream company and a coastal hotel are listed. So is Sing A Long Productions in Burlingame, which supples disc jockeys and karaoke.

"I am sure we have done business with PG&E and other companies that have parties from time to time," said owner Nick Foster. "Maybe somebody forgot that we did not get paid."

PG&E spokesman Ron Low said the list includes everyone to whom the utility wrote a check in the last two years, such as homeowners who received energy conservation rebates and retirees who received checks related to benefits.

"It was an attempt to notify anybody who possibly could have a claim against the company and to cast the widest net possible," he said.

Several PG&E retirees, such as Robert W. Oliver of Berkeley, were baffled by their inclusion on the list. "I draw a little pension," said Oliver, who was a personnel executive and left the company in 1980. "It's a vested pension."

Another retiree on the list is former Chief Executive Richard A. Clarke.

He and about 10 other former high-ranking PG&E executives or their survivors have retained an attorney to help ensure that their retirement benefits are protected during the bankruptcy case.

"We don't want someone to get the idea that this is a bunch of well-heeled executives trying to get a piece of the action," said the attorney, John T. Hansen. "Some in our group are widows of former executives who depend on the pensions they receive as survivors."

Hansen said some retired executives have deferred-compensation packages that might be considered a general unsecured bankruptcy claim.

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