PARADISE, Calif. — Fire survivors from the 2018 Camp Fire continue to be deprived of their settlements from the Fire Victim Trust (FVT). Lawmakers representing fire-impacted areas are now calling on the California attorney general to investigate the trust.
It's in the form of a letter signed by 11 state assembly members and senators, including Assemblyman James Gallagher and Senator Jim Nielsen. They ask the newly sworn-in California attorney general, Rob Bonta, to review FVT’s recent expenditures and administrators.
“Fire survivors have already been victimized once by negligent utility and the trustees of this massive settlement are ushering in a further injustice by delaying payments and instead of paying out millions for processor fees, legal and consulting fees, and data collection,” the letter reads.
The $13.5 billion dollar trust was the result of PG&E’s bankruptcy settlement, which includes nearly 70,000 Californians. A majority have yet to see a single penny.
The letter says claimants are already expecting up to two years for their claims to be settled and that more overhead costs will accumulate the longer survivors are not paid.
“Further delays only make a bad situation worse,” the letter reads.
Survivors of last week's FTV protest in Paradise share these same thoughts, especially after discovering FVT spent $51 million on overhead in their first year while survivors saw a fraction of that at $7 million.
"What PG&E did to us, they didn't just take our homes and take our community, they backtracked us in retirement,” said Camp Fire survivor and protestor Tammy Spirlock. “They made us go into debt. They made us live places we didn't choose to live."
“By not paying us, they are prolonging our stress and our agony that we've already suffered from. It's like a double whammy really and it's not right."
Retired Justice John K. Trotter, the trustee overseeing FVT, responded earlier this month to criticisms over the high overhead costs. He says the trust’s framework had to first be created ($51 million) before compensating survivors.
In response to the legislators’ request for investigation, Justice Trotter sent a letter of his own to the attorney general. The letter, obtained by KRCR, reads:
I have received a copy of the letter sent to you by certain California legislators. I am appalled by the carelessness with which it was written. It appears to be influenced by a recent, inaccurate and uninformed news report with no attempt to understand the Trust’s operation or function. None of these legislators contacted me or anyone else on my staff to verify or understand why startup costs were necessary and what, in fact, they were. The Fire Victims have suffered enough, they do not need their own elected officials adding to their angst by thoughtless accusations. I have been a judge for over 40 years and have always valued thoughtful and informed discussions regarding the matters before me. This letter was neither.
Trotter ended his letter by inviting the attorney general to discuss why overhead costs were so high and fire victim payouts were so low. If Bonta will take him up on that offer or if an investigation by his office will be pursued into FVT is unclear at this time.