President of the Public Utilities Commission: Who Is Michael Picker?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Michael Picker

Governor Brown wasted no time in replacing controversial Public Utilities Commission (PUC) President Michael Peevey with a man who worked for him in his first administration, 32 years ago, on another form of toxic substance control.

Michael Picker, 62, will just have to slide down the dais to pick up the gavel; Brown put him on the commission 11 months ago and he will become president on January 1. He has 30 years of experience in policy development, administration at local and state levels, grassroots campaigns, community organizing, non-profits and public relations. His brief bio at Lincoln Crow Strategic Communications, which he co-founded, says he “knows his way around government and elections.”

That last qualification may be the most important on his resume. The PUC regulates electric and gas utilities, private water companies, intrastate rail, livery and bus service, ridesharing and some telecommunications, but it is presently getting most of its publicity for events surrounding the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline blast that killed eight people and leveled a neighborhood. Explosive e-mails, being released in large and small batches, are revealing scandalous and, perhaps, illegal back-channel communications between the commission and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), which it regulates.

Brown also announced the appointment of Liane Randolph to the scandal-wracked five-person commission. Randolph, the general counsel at the California’s Natural Resources Agency and a Democrat, will take Picker’s seat.

Picker received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles in 1974.

Picker, a Democrat, was deputy assistant for toxic substance control in the Office of the Governor in 1981-82 when Jerry Brown was governor the first time around. He was instrumental in establishing programs to safely site hazardous waste facilities and developing waste management programs, which are still in effect at the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).

His job overlapped his work as a stop-environmental-cancer organizer at the Campaign for Economic Democracy from 1978 to 1982. Picker co-founded an environmental consulting business, the Toxic Assessments Group, in 1982. The group organized a nonprofit statewide coalition of labor, farm, environmental and neighborhood groups to work on policy related to toxic hazards.

Picker worked on a number of local political campaigns, including those of former Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna Jr. He became Serna’s chief of staff in 1992 and stayed with him for seven years. While working for Serna, he earned an MBA from the University of California, Davis, in 1998, specializing in marketing, social marketing and nonprofit management.

Picker was Deputy Treasurer of Investment in the Office of the California State Treasurer in 1998-99 when Phil Angelides ran it. He stayed for 13 months before moving

Picker left government in 2000 and became a principal at Lincoln Crow Strategic Communications. The company does public relations, policy advocacy, campaign strategy and grass-roots organizing. He also was a consultant at Kaufman Campaign Consultants from 2000 to 2002.

Picker went on leave at his company in 2009 to return to government as senior advisor for Renewable Energy in the Office of the Governor.  While doing that job, he was elected to a four-year term as director for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Ward 5 in November 2012.

He had to leave the board and resign his position with the administration when Brown appointed him to the PUC 11 months ago.

Picker is married to Bettina Redway, an attorney and a former deputy state treasurer.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Commissioner Michael Picker Named President of PUC (by Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times)

Longtime Democratic Consultant Michael Picker Appointed President of Troubled CPUC (by Marlize van Romburgh, San Francisco Business Times)

Michael Picker Named to Replace CPUC President Michael Peevey (by Melody Gutierrez, San Francisco Chronicle)

Full Biography for Michael Picker (Smart Voter)

Embattled PUC President Peevey Leaving under Fire in December (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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