Alright, Lathrop – you’re next.
This past week the Manteca City Council didn’t pull any punches when outlining their concerns to a PG&E representative who showed up to take questions and provide any answers he was authorized to give to an elected body that represents more than 83,000 people on the brink of panic.
It went about as well as you would expect a situation like that to go.
The representative, Dylan George, appeared to do his best toeing the company line while at the same time making recommendations to minimize impacts if the power were to be cut off for up to five days, but the presentation appeared to do little to win over skeptical members of the council and an audience that is preparing for an unexpected – and to be quite honest, scary – scenario.
Ben Cantu pointed out that “people in this town are pissed” but I have also noticed that people in this town are frightened about the prospect of living in a medium-sized city for up to five days without any power.
Even measured, reasoned people that I’ve spoken to have gone to lengths to ensure that they aren’t victimized – digging out stored guns, purchasing bullets, and stocking up on not just food supplies, but first aid supplies as well. There have been people on social media immaturely talking about the coming “purge,” but the reality of the situation is that nobody knows quite what is going to happen and this putting a lot of people on edge.
On one hand, Northern California’s largest power provider should be commended for using its vast resources to try and prepare people for the impending blackout, but on the other hand, it’s a blackout that is entirely of their own making – something that the public relations officials that they trot out to take bullets from angry elected officials always seem to leave out of the spiel.
As George honestly answered when asked by the Manteca council if they would be reimbursed for costs associated with minimizing the impacts of the blackout, there is nothing in the cards for the San Francisco-based utility to do that at the moment.
“If you’re asking if PG&E is going to pay for that – that’s not the plan at this point,” George said, which elicited a sharp response from the audience.
I do believe that Mayor Ben Cantu and Councilman Gary Singh deserve commendation for holding George’s feet as close to the fire as they possibly could, and call on the Lathrop City Council to do much of the same when a representative shows up there in early July to likely deliver the same address to the public.
While it will be largely symbolic – a company the size of PG&E wouldn’t plan for something like this unless they were on solid legal ground, and largely know ahead of time that they won’t be held responsible for the fallout – it will reassure residents that somebody has their best interests at heart and won’t abandon them on the precipice of uncertainty.
In fact, it would be wonderful if former councilman Steve Dresser – who never, ever, pulled punches – happened to stop by and offer his concerns as a Lathrop resident. Dresser had a habit of calling people to the carpet when he served on the council, and that is exactly what is needed right now – the ability to cut through the PR smokescreen and speak realistically about the situation that we’re all facing.
It won’t do any good to try and beat up on PG&E any more than I already have, but I think that there are two other things that need to be pointed out.
First, this week it was made public that the business is planning on doling out up to $11 million to a group of its top executives – even as the company is going through bankruptcy. According to the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, 11 people plus the CEO of the company are eligible for the bonuses. The move to distribute the payments would require the permission of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of California and is likely to receive stiff opposition from lawyers representing the families who lost everything in the Camp Fire last year.
So, to review – the company’s stock is half of what it was a year ago, even if slightly rebounded from where it was at the start of this year, and the company plans on paying annual bonuses to its top executives that are more than 23 times the median household income for the community that their powerlines destroyed.
Second, after searching on Southern California Edison’s website about their protocols for fire safety power shutoffs, I discovered that there is a program in place for people to make claims to the company for losses that come as a result of being without power. It appears to be only for goods – think food – but so far everything that I have been hearing and reading from PG&E and the materials that they are putting out doesn’t make any mention of a similar program.
But it turns out that there may in fact be one in place. Claims can be filed with PG&E for a number of reasons, including food that spoils in the event that power is out for an extended period of time. According to the company’s website, an itemized list of the cost and type of perishable spoiled food is necessary, so keep all receipts or other documentation handy.
There is also a section for lost revenue, but it is remarkably light on specifics. Unlike SCE, PG&E’s claims section makes no specific mention of fire safety outages, so I’m not quite sure if it is something that residents can apply for and expect anything from.
Perhaps this is another thing that our local elected officials and state officeholders need to push for.
With fire season extending well into the late fall and even early winter, this is a threat that is going to be on the table for a while.
So, for the time being, I think that those that we elected as our representatives need to make as much noise as possible about this situation – even if it’s futile.
This isn’t going to be easy for the people who have paid their bills religiously to a company that has forsaken their safety and their convenience, so why make it easy for that company?
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.