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Memo to Prehistoric Gas & Electric brass: Most of your ‘victims’ don’t have landlines
phone fire

How clueless are the top brass at Pyrotechnic Gas & Electric?

Consider the response that PG&E Senior Director of Emergency Preparedness & Response Mark Quinlan gave Tuesday regarding a question on how customers they deliberately left in the dark can get information when the power is already out and when many cellphone towers that also rely on power and have limited battery backup have stopped working.

His answer makes it clear that PG&E brass are not on the same planet as Northern California but instead are in a different dimension.

Quinlan’s advice? “People could get information from a website through family or they could just get it the old-fashioned way through calling a landline.”

This is not a joke.

The people who are in charge of your power are telling you when your power is out and you have no cell phone service due to cell towers being knocked off line by PG&E and you need information from them to call a family member elsewhere to check the PG&E website. How do you call them when your phone is dead? Perhaps you could send smoke signals using the fire PG&E lines started at your neighbor’s house.

The most telling part of the advice, though, is the landlines.

I’m a borderline Luddite and I haven’t had a landline for 15 years. Data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics show more than 70 percent of renters and young adults only use cellphones. Nationally only 46 percent of households have a landline. Any bets on whether the number is even lower in much of the PG&E territory?

What makes PG&E fumbling the ball particularly irksome on informing customers whether they can expect to be plunged back into the Dark Ages or be able to return to the 21st century after PG&E turns off the lights in a semi-successful effort to avoid triggering wildfires that they could be held liable for, is the fact they basically assumed PG&E customers would take this latest round of corporate ineptness (deliberate power outages to gloss over 20 years of gross mismanagement of the power system) and simply grumble like we do when PG&E sticks us for massive rate hikes.

Did they really think that there wouldn’t be at least 200,000 people or so among their 16 million hostages trying to get info on outages at a given moment when they decide they may have to flip the switch?

As for the CPUC — the California Profits Upkeep Commission — acting enraged about PG&E misfires in terms of getting information out, please stop the posturing.

They knew about what PG&E was proposing and didn’t do a single thing to make sure the for-profit utility was adequately prepared. Back in June when people throughout Manteca were being educated by a PG&E representative and local authorities at venues such as the Del Webb at Woodbridge clubhouse and Powers Avenue fire station, they grasped the gravity of what was unfolding. They asked real hard questions — some that were answered and some that was above the pay grade of the PG&E employee that were present. One of them was just how well PG&E was prepared to keep the channels of information up and running given computers and cell phones can’t run without power or batteries that need to be recharged with electricity’s. If a 65-year-old Manteca resident with no authority over PG&E can ask the hard questions in advance, why didn’t the CPUC?

The bottom line is the CPUC, the commission that is supposedly charged with looking after the best interests of the public and consumers, was doing what they do best when it comes to making sure PG&E walks the line — nothing.

The CPUC can do all the chest beating and tough talking they want for the cameras but it was clear to first responders back in May that what PG&E was planning to do to avoid 20 years of neglecting their system hammering the final nail in their corporate coffin by wiping another entire town off the map would create an unprecedented emergency. The rank and file responsible for public health and safety started preparing for the PG&E games. Meanwhile the CPUC went along its merry way as if what PG&E was saying they were going to do would disrupt and put 30 percent of California’s 40 million residents on edge with a number being placed in precarious situations was no big deal.

The CPUC is supposed to be the sleuths operating in the best interests of you and I so the ghost of the famously corrupt Southern Pacific Railroad a century ago that had a chokehold on California and  virtually every state politician in their back pocket isn’t reincarnated in the form of the nation’s largest for-profit power provider. Instead they have assumed the role of Captain Obvious after PG&E shakes down, terrorizes or kills its captive ratepayers who are in the situation they are because Sacramento works overtime to protect the state monopoly granted PG&E.

Even after all PG&E has done to California all the CPUC can say is “bad puppy” after PG&E chews on us. And then after a stern lecture they turn their backs and PG&E is back at us again.

Given how raw PG&E’s corporate misbehaving has made Northern California, CEO Bill Johnson might want to deep-six a PG&E annual tradition of bragging via press releases about how much property taxes and franchise fees they pay each year to the 50 counties and 243 cities where they own and operate gas and electric facilities.

Google the words of Jason Wells, senior vice president and chief financial officer for PG&E in 2017, when he issued these self-serving words: “Property tax and franchise fee payments are one of the important ways PG&E helps drive local economies and supports essential public services like education and public safety. This year’s higher payments reflect the substantial local investments we are making in our gas and electric infrastructure to create one of the safest and most reliable energy companies in the nation.”

Note the use of the words “safest” and “reliable” in reference to PG&E.

That drivel is nothing compared to the fact the property taxes and franchise tax fees are factored into rate increases we pay outside the 10.5 percent return PG&E is guaranteed by the state.  

And while it’s nice that PG&E pays property taxes like you and I do, you might ask why they don’t issue similar statements about how much federal income tax they pay. The reason they don’t is simple. They haven’t paid federal income taxes for 10 years. 

The odds are almost every one of the 14,000 families PG&E burned out of their homes in the 2018 Butte County fire paid more federal taxes than PG&E.

But then again the 14,000 families can thank PG&E for reducing their property tax bills.

Perhaps they might want to call up the CEO and leave a voice message using their landline assuming it wasn’t reduced to ashes along with 85 of their neighbors to thank him for cutting their property tax burden 



This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.