SoCal Edison to pay $3.5 million
Southern California Edison has agreed to pay a $3.5 million civil penalty and plead “no contest” to a misdemeanor as part of a settlement with Santa Barbara County over Mission Canyon.
The company and the county District Attorney’s Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit reached a global settlement to resolve civil and criminal actions stemming from a December 2019 grading project. The county said the project caused significant environmental harm to Mission Canyon.
District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley announced the settlement Monday. The case is People vs. Southern California Edison Co.
The pact addresses criminal and civil complaints against Southern California Edison, which the county said obstructed water flow, caused the loss of vegetation and trees, and degraded the Santa Barbara site as a natural habitat.
“The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office is committed to prosecuting violations of California’s environmental laws,” Ms. Dudley said in a statement. “While the decision to charge a corporation criminally is not one that prosecutors take lightly, our office will do so when the underlying conduct warrants such action.
“We believe the resolution in this case reflects the seriousness of SCE’s impact on our environment,” Ms. Dudley said. “We commend the company for accepting responsibility and committing to remediate the damage it caused and appreciate the company’s cooperation throughout the investigation.”
Santa Barbara County alleged that between Dec. 4 and Dec. 16, 2019, Southern California Edison engaged in an unpermitted road maintenance and widening project along 1.6 miles of Spyglass Ridge Road, starting at the base of the Inspiration Point trailhead.
The county said Southern California Edison’s work discharged a substantial amount of rock, sediment and debris (“sidecast”) down the slopes into Mission Creek and its tributaries.
In total, the company discharged approximately 965,113 gallons of sidecast over the edge of Spyglass Ridge Road into Mission Canyon, according to the county. Of that, approximately 74,044 gallons were discharged into the waters of the U.S. and approximately 521,756 gallons were discharged into California’s waters, the county said.
The county said the work resulted in alterations in Mission Creek’s streambed and obstructions in the water flows, as well as permanent changes to the natural environment by carving rock and vegetation from the mountainside. The county said Southern California Edison also caused the permanent loss of some native trees and vegetation, and degraded the habitat for some fish, wildlife and rare plant communities.
And the county contended the company’s actions led to multiple closures of one of the county’s most popular recreation areas.
Since the incident, Southern California Edison has cooperated with regulators, the county said.
At the direction of the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department, Southern California Edison did extensive work to improve the safety and stability of the area. Additionally, it is working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the County Planning and Development Department to repair damage to Mission Canyon and Mission Creek.
The county said Southern California Edison pleaded “no contest” to a misdemeanor violation of California Water Code section 13387(b) for discharging a pollutant into Mission Creek. A judge then found Southern California Edison guilty of the misdemeanor, Deputy District Attorney Morgan S. Lucas told the News-Press.
Any future violations of this code section can be charged as a felony, the county noted.
Southern California Edison will also pay a $10,000 criminal fine to the State Water Quality Control Board for deposit in the State Water Pollution Cleanup and Abatement Account.
The county reported that Southern California Edison also admitted civil liability to several violations of the California Fish and Game Code and the California Business and Professions Code.
As part of the civil judgment, Southern California Edison must continue working with regulators on repairs to Mission Canyon, the county said.
As part of the settlement, Southern California Edison will pay a $3.5 million civil penalty, $875,000 of which is devoted to funding supplemental environmental projects in the community. Some of the projects include maintaining the Jesusita and Tunnel trails, revegetating Mission Canyon and Mission Creek with native plants, researching and monitoring the health of Mission Creek, and funding efforts to clean Santa Barbara’s front country trails and creeks.
Of the remaining penalty money, $1,312,500 will be paid to Santa Barbara County; $656,250 to state Fish & Wildlife for deposit in the Fish and Game Preservation Fund; and $656,250 to the county’s Fish and Wildlife Propagation Fund.
Under the agreement, Southern California Edison will also reimburse the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office for $25,000 and state Fish & Wildlife for $15,000 for investigation and prosecution costs.
The case was handled by Deputy District Attorneys Morgan Lucas and Christopher Dalbey and was supervised by Senior Deputy District Attorney Brian Cota. The case numbers are 20CR08284 and 20CV04002.