"This failure is upon us because for years, in order to enlarge dividends, bonuses, and political contributions, PG&E cheated on maintenance of its grid," U.S. District Judge William Alsup wrote last month.
The San Bruno explosion occurred six years after PG&E finished its first bankruptcy, triggered by illegal manipulation of California's then-deregulated power market. That was widely seen as a squandered opportunity to force PG&E to invest in safety measures instead of boosting profits.
Besides the tragedy in San Bruno, PG&E equipment has been blamed for a series of wildfires that caused more than $50 billion in losses. It used the bankruptcy process to settle those claims for $25.5 billion, including the $13.5 billion nominally promised to more than 80,000 people who lost family, homes and businesses in the wildfires.
To finance those deals and other obligations, PG&E's debt will nearly double to almost $40 billion if its plan is approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali and state regulators.
California's political leaders and regulators promised to seize on PG&E's latest bankruptcy to ensure the utility would emerge on solid financial ground and move toward protecting customers.
That hasn't happened, warned San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and more than 200 other elected officials from municipalities served by the utility who oppose the company's plan. "PG&E has failed financially twice in the past 20 years, and we have no reason to believe that it will not enter bankruptcy again, after the next wildfire season," they wrote.
Liccardo likened PG&E's current plan to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic at a time the economy is sinking into a recession.
"Nothing has changed for the better," he said in an interview. "I am certain people are going to wind up with higher electricity bills at a time they can least afford them."