Court: Utility still on hook to pay housing costs after leak


LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California appeals court rejected efforts Wednesday by a utility to stop housing Los Angeles residents driven from their homes by a gas leak that lasted almost four months.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal denied a petition by Southern California Gas Co. to reconsider a judge’s order requiring the company to extend paying short-term housing costs and other expenses until March 18.

As residents in short-term housing were to return home last Thursday, lawyers for Los Angeles County successfully won the extension so the public health department could test homes to make sure it was safe to return.

The company said it was spending about $2 million a day for housing, but Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle said health risks to residents outweighed the gas company’s costs.

The gas company appealed, saying public health officials had already determined air quality had returned to safe levels near its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility.

Thousands of residents moved out of the Porter Ranch area during the 16-week leak and many complained of nausea, headaches, nosebleeds and other symptoms. Some who returned home after the leak was sealed said they continued to suffer from maladies.

SoCalGas said it was disappointed with the decision because it conflicts with independent scientific analysis and creates more uncertainty in the community.

The leak, which scientists said was the largest known methane release in U.S. history, uprooted 6,400 families.

The court case doesn’t affect displaced residents who leased homes and apartments as late as April 30.