The Public Advocates Office’s (also known as Cal Advocates) origins are found in the CPUC’s Public Staff Division, which functioned as both advocates in formal regulatory proceedings as well as advisors to the CPUC. In 1984, the CPUC reorganized the functions of the Public Staff Division to improve efficiency of staff and resources, and the Public Staff Division was renamed the Office of Ratepayer Advocates (ORA). The change, which charged the division with advocating on behalf of public utility customers and subscribers, was codified in Public Utilities Code Section 309.5.

In 1996, SB 960 (Chapter 856, Statutes of 1996) made ORA independent with respect to policy, advocacy, and budget. SB 960 also made the ORA Director a gubernatorial appointee subject to Senate confirmation. In 1997, the CPUC implemented its reorganization plan, “Vision 2000,” which significantly diminished the size of ORA staff, but the ratepayer advocacy responsibilities and workload remained the same.

In 2005, SB 608 (Chapter 440, Statues of 2005) strengthened the organization by providing it with autonomy over its budget and staffing resources and authorizing the appointment of a full-time Chief Counsel. In 2013, SB 96 provided ORA more autonomy by making it an independent program within the CPUC.

In 2018, SB 854 (Chapter 51, Statutes of 2018) changed ORA to the Public Advocates Office to better convey the Office’s public interest mission. The Public Advocates Office further strengthen its safety work in 2020 with the creation of a new Safety Branch and 14 new permanent wildfire safety positions to help implement SB 901 (Chapter 626, Statutes of 2018).

Today, the Public Advocates Office is comprised of 179 professional and administrative staff. Our mission has endured for over 40 years. However, the evolving nature of the utility industries requires that we address new and emerging issues that directly impact utility customers. While the Public Advocates Office continues to focus on ratemaking proceedings such as General Rate Cases, in furtherance of our mission, our advocacy now includes key policy areas such as integrated resource planning and resource adequacy, electric transmission planning, wildfire safety, and broadband policy and communications-related public purpose programs. We also are augmenting our analytic approaches to include geographic information system (GIS) mapping and spatial analysis. As the utility industries continue to change in dynamic ways, the Public Advocates Office will continue to evaluate how our advocacy must change and adapt to best represent utility customers.