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Camp Fire survivor weighs in on PG&E power crisis
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

There are a few people living in Manteca who have a unique perspective of PG&E’s plan to cut off electricity to Manteca and surrounding areas for 2 to 5 days when specific extreme wildfire concerns exist in  communities along the same power lines that’s serve San Joaquin County.

Pamela Simons and her family were displaced during the Camp Fire that PG&E concedes their equipment likely started that ended up killing 85 people, destroyed 14,000 homes and burned 5,000 other structures. They are new residents of Manteca.

Fire safety is very important to me,” Simons told the City Council on Tuesday when they were discussing making changes to the municipal ordinance regarding whole house generators. “I’m also concerned about our safety during a power shut off.”

She has concerns about what a prolonged power outage can do given she was living in New York City during the blackouts of 1965 and 1977 when she indicated looting took place throughout the city. She added that she had friends whose families lost their business during the looting.

Simons pointed out that during Hurricane Irma in 2017 in Florida 12 residents at a nursing home lost their lives because there were no backup generators in place to run air conditioning.

She believes the city should make it as easy as possible four people that can afford the expense to put in whole house generators that are powered by being plumbed to natural gas.

She noted that most people would probably be using portable generators due to the lower cost which means people would be having a lot of gasoline stored on their property to run their generators.

Simons noted having whole house generators in place — at least 60 households have inquired about installing them given they need a city permit including Simons — would take a lot of pressure off what cooling centers will be up and running.

Simons noted those with whole house generators are likely to open their homes up to their neighbors to access air conditioning especially if they are elderly neighbors.

She pointed out homes being able to have their lights on if and when PG&E plunges Manteca into darkness for 2 to 5 days will protect those homes somewhat from the criminal element.

Another speaker — Joe Holstein of Quality Home Services — said he understand the city’s need to go through a process to change zoning ordinances. He praised the city for working with permittees including a number he has been hired to assist in getting whole house generators in place.

He said a lot of people with medical concerns and other needs have been contacting his firm.

Calling the situation PG&E is creating as being “unprecedented”, he noted the whole house generators only exceed the allowable noise level by a relatively small margin.

He also shared that some households and businesses have contacted his company to check generators already in place and that a number of them were not permitted so therefore his firm will not touch them.

The council, at that meeting, directed staff to initiate a zoning change required under state law that would allow backup generators to go within the five foot setback under certain conditions. Those conditions require it to be behind a fence, retain enough space so solid waste carts can be moved past generators so that the carts aren’t left in front yards in violation of zoning ordinances, emergency egress is retained, and that during periods the city hasn’t declared an emergency that the generator’s test cycle noise doesn’t exceed allowable decibel levels under city code. 

Until the Manteca Planning Commission reviews the zoning change and it is approved by the council, backup generators cannot be placed within the five foot setback. The zoning change could take upwards of six months to implement. Staff vowed to expedite it as quickly as legally possible.

To that end, staff has started preparing the documents needed for the Manteca Planning Commission to consider the council’s directive at the Tuesday, Aug, 13, meeting at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email