A ruling Wednesday by a state appellate court means Southern California Gas will have to continue subsidizing the temporary housing of thousands of people displaced by the Porter Ranch gas leak for at least two more weeks, and perhaps longer.
A three-judge panel of California's Second District Court of Appeals vacated last month's ruling by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias that had cleared the way for an end to the subsidies.
L.A. County appealed that order, and on Wednesday the appellate panel said Elias had "failed to give adequate weight and consideration" to evidence submitted by L.A. County's Department of Public Health that hundreds of Porter Ranch residents were complaining of symptoms such as headaches and nausea after the leak was capped in February.
The appeals court also ruled that Elias had failed to adequately take into account the county's argument that, "because of the unprecedented nature of the gas leak, there were no 'off-the-shelf' tests available to discern what matter deposited by the gas could be causing the reported illnesses and other symptoms, thereby requiring the need for the development of new testing protocols."
The appellate panel gave Elias two options: either demonstrate in court on April 27 why her original ruling should stand or schedule a new hearing to reconsider the matter.
Until the case is resolved, SoCal Gas will continue to be on the hook for the cost of the lodgings of the Porter Ranch residents displaced by the leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility.
The gas company called the appellate ruling "another setback for the community of Porter Ranch," and repeated its stance that L.A. County's arguments "fail to acknowledge the enormous amount of data" collected by several state, regional and local agencies showing that it is safe for people to return to their homes.
"We look forward to demonstrating before the court that the air in the Porter Ranch neighborhood has returned to pre-leak conditions and that there is no evidence that justifies continued relocation," the company said in a statement.
SoCal Gas also said it will continue "working tirelessly to process all remaining reimbursement checks" for the displaced. Some have complained that the firm is behind on those payments.
As of last Friday, SoCal Gas said it had paid more than $58 million on housing, food and gas for the displaced; more than 4,000 families remain in hotels or other temporary quarters.
This story has been updated.