Southern California Edison settled public-entity fire claims today for $360 million, including lawsuits brought by Santa Barbara agencies for the Thomas Fire and the 1/9 Debris Flow. Altogether, the settlement incorporates lawsuits filed by 23 public agencies — including Montecito’s water and fire districts, the city and county of Santa Barbara, the county’s Flood Control District, and Carpinteria Fire — for the two local disasters as well as the Woolsey and Koenigstein fires.
The settlement is, in principle, contingent on assent from the various agencies involved. The lawsuits brought by individual plaintiffs and businesses against the utilities are not affected by this settlement.
The County of Santa Barbara expects to get about $50 million of the total, County Counsel Mike Ghizzoni said. About $29 million of that goes toward the county’s costs for Thomas and the debris flow, while the rest would reimburse the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state Office of Emergency Services, which quickly underwrote the county’s efforts and sent emergency workers and trucks at the height of the emergency: “I have nothing but praise for FEMA and CalOES,” Ghizzoni said, citing their daily availability to discuss needs.
The City of Santa Barbara is receiving $6,771,882 of the settlement. The settlement was divided into $150 million for the Thomas incidents and $210 million for the Woolsey Fire, said Nina Johnson, assistant city manager. The city will also receive $23,918,529 that was set aside from Federal Emergency Management Agency funds.
“The Thomas Fire and Montecito Debris Flow were unprecedented events and, beyond the tragic human loss, our community suffered economic impacts as well,” Mayor Cathy Murillo said. “This money will cover the city’s losses related to public assets and services, offsetting city taxpayer resources.”
In Edison’s report of the settlement, it asserts no admission of wrongdoing or liability was made and that it continues its cross-claims against four public entities in connection with the debris flow. Pedro Pizarro, CEO of Edison International, SCE’s parent company, said, “We are pleased to reach agreements to resolve the claims brought by local government entities related to the 2017 and 2018 events,” adding, “We look forward to engaging with other parties who have a similar interest in good faith settlement efforts.”
The settlement was brought in by Scott Summy, John Fiske, and Torri Sherlin of Baron & Budd of Los Angeles, and co-counsel Dixon Dlab & Chambers, who between them represented the 23 public entities in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles counties in these particular lawsuits. The same attorneys achieved a $1 billion settlement with PG&E on Northern California wildfires earlier in the summer. It had taken a couple of mediations with retired judge Jay Gandhi and some talks to reach the agreement, Summy said. “We’re happy for our clients,” he said. “They’re able to stop litigating, move on with rebuilding their cities and counties, and have funds to help them do that.”