Earthquakes, Explosions and California Government

San Bruno Resized
NBC Bay Areas

A new federal report comes down hard on the Northern California utility PG&E for ignoring -- for 54 years -- serious problems with the gas pipeline that exploded in the Bay Area community of San Bruno last year, killing eight people and destorying 38 homes.

The report found that the failure to act on welding problems in the pipeline represented a failure to maintain, oversee and renew the entire system of pipelines.

We know what PG&E was thinking: those pipelines might have problems -- but they've lasted for more than a half century.

So why go to the trouble of fixing them?

The same sort of logic is used all the time by California homeowners who know that their foundations may be unsafe or decaying. But if the house has stood up for a century, through previous quakes, why wouldn't it survive the quakes to come?

Of course, this is the dominant way of thinking about California's broken governing system.

The state has problems, but it's held up for 160 years. So why go to the trouble and difficulty of digging deep and fixing the way we govern the whole thing?

This, of course, is irresponsible thinking.

But it is the thinking of the state's political, labor, corporate and good government elites.

Gov. Jerry Brown doesn't want to revisit Prop 13 and other systemic changes in the system because it's too dangerous.

Labor and corporate types know the system doesn't work, but they have special deals within the system that might be changed by redesigning how governance works.

So why take the chance? Good government folks are eager to stay positive and keep funders happy by racking up victories -- even small insignificant ones -- to show they are doing something.

All this is fine. Until a calamity hits and the unrepaired governing system is unable to meet the challenges of an emergency.

The bad news is: in California, you can't predict when and where the calamity will come. But you know that it's coming.

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