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Top PG&E executive in ill-timed Sonoma County winery retreat out of job

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SAN FRANCISCO — A top Pacific Gas and Electric Co. executive who was among a group of employees who wined and dined top customers at a Sonoma County winery just before the utility's widespread power outage last week is no longer with the company.

Mel Christopher, who until recently was the top PG&E gas executive, was gone as of Tuesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday.

Christopher's departure comes days after The Chronicle reported he was among 10 to 12 PG&E gas employees who attended a retreat with as many as 60 major gas customers at Silver Oak winery in Healdsburg just before their colleagues initiated an unprecedented blackout in parts of 34 counties.

The retreat also coincided with the two-year anniversary of the October 2017 North Bay wildfires, most of which the state blamed on PG&E. Those fires caused widespread damage in Sonoma County.

Bill Johnson, CEO of the utility's parent company PG&E Corp., indicated he wanted Christopher removed.

"Everyone at PG&E needs to be working to better serve our customers and earn back their trust," Johnson said in a statement. "The timing and location of the event held in Sonoma, given the two-year mark of the 2017 North Bay wildfires and the imminent Public Safety Power Shut-off, was insensitive, inappropriate, and tone deaf. As such, it did not reflect the values of our company."

This is the second leader that PG&E's troubled gas business has lost this year.

Christopher's predecessor, Jesus Soto, exited the company more than four months ago, shortly after Johnson took over as CEO.

PG&E's gas operations were implicated in a devastating San Bruno explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes nine years ago.

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Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com

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