MENDOCINO Co., 11/02/19 — Not many people in Mendocino County are pleased with exactly how the recent county-wide PG&E power shut-off occurred, and the displeased include many local officials, who, at the upcoming Mendocino County Board of Supervisors meeting, plan to draft a formal response to the utility company.
After more than four days of lights-out across the county, officials declared a local emergency on October 30 as power began to be restored, and the supervisors also plan to approve an urgency ordinance related to price gouging at this upcoming meeting. But the board, as well as many municipal level officials and county staff, are also unhappy with the way PG&E communicated with them — and they are planning to formally send a complaint to the utility, as well as to the governor, the California Public Utilities Commission, and other state government officials.
The supervisors will be discussing the recent county-wide shut-off — which PG&E called two separate shut-off “events” in one continuous black out — beginning at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 5, at their regularly scheduled board meeting, which this week will take place in the town of Mendocino. The board plans to hear public comment, discuss the impact of the shut-offs, and approve a formal letter to PG&E — so if you haven’t submitted your comments, now’s a good time. The supervisors also plan to vote on the passage of a local state of emergency, as well as consider an urgency ordinance related to potential price gouging during the shut-offs.
The official response to the shut-off changed in tenor over the prolonged blackouts, and as the outage extended and patience wore thin, officials took to both their personal social media and eventually to official pages decrying the inability to get reliable, timely information from PG&E officials either via formal press announcements or via direct calls between the company, state agencies, and county officials.
The county CEO warned of public safety risks, and one supervisor noted tears in his eyes while penning an update that could not provide substantially new information, while residents complained of repeatedly PG&E notifications with broken links, lengthy and inoperable codes, and late night robot-calls — if they received notice at all.
This Tuesday won’t be the first time Mendocino County supervisors have debated PG&E’s power shut-offs, or questioned the vulnerability of the county’s emergency communication resources, critical infrastructure, and evacuation access routes, topics which have been increasing concern for Mendocino residents since the Redwood Complex Fires in 2017. This July, a presentation by PG&E staff concerning the potential for upcoming power shut-offs got heated, with supervisors demanding a more extensive and locally relevant presentation in the future (watch here).
Supervisors also recently considered the county’s emergency radio communications network during an October meeting (watch here). However, although there have been more theoretical discussions by county officials, and more limited power shut-offs than the recent events, this will be the first meeting the supervisors will discuss the utility’s actions in the aftermath of an unprecedented county-wide shut-off.
The supervisors have drafted a letter to discuss and potentially approve, which is included below. You can see the full agenda and related documents here. Public comment can be submitted in writing to the supervisors by emailing email@example.com, or given in person during the meeting, or by calling the county’s power shut-off complaint line at 707-234-6300. The discussion will begin at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 5, at St. Anthony’s Church Parish Hall, 10700 Lansing Street in the town of Mendocino, and should also be live-streamed on the county’s youtube page.
Here’s the proposed letter, in a PDF — scroll through the pdf to see the next pages, or scroll down to see the full text.PGE-Letter-11.5
Here it is in text:
RE: PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff October Events in Mendocino County
Dear Mr. Johnson:
Mendocino County spent months and considerable amounts of monetary and staffing resources planning for and responding to PSPS events totaling $250,000 to date. We anticipate that after thorough analysis of the most recent event, we will spend in excess of $1,500,000 in facilities modifications and upgrades.
The County participated in planning calls with PG&E, the State, and local partners in hopes communication, notification and community resource center responsibilities were clear and the County would be able to get accurate and timely information to support our community during these events. The County continues tostruggle with PG&E’s inconsistent and inaccurate communication in each event. The most challenging communication impacts were experienced during the county-wide outages from October 26 – 31 impacting all 90,000 residents. We were left in the dark regarding restoration timelines and how we would be affected by two back to back events. The community was incredibly frustrated and panicked, having no real informationwhen power would be restored. The PSPS event has drastically damaged PG&E’s credibility with the Countyand community.
I would like to recap some of the events of the four Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events that occurred in October of 2019, and that severely undermined the County’s efforts to coordinate with our first responders andlocal government partners to protect the public health and safety of our community:
Unacceptable scope and duration
o Areas in scope well out of the wind event
o Lack of redundancy in PG&E’s power distribution system unnecessarily expanded the scopeo Entire County, including every major city, was out of power for 5 days, over 120 hours
Terminology was not universal throughout the events
Areas of impact were often convoluted and unclear
County was listed in multiple time periods in several events, but no clear delineation o fgeographic locations (Mendocino South vs. Mendocino North vs Supplemental A), negated any usefulness of reported data
No consistent messaging pre-prepared by PG&E to provide to the public
Website not up to date
- Outage information was communicated in less than 24 hours, leaving little time for communities to prepare
- Portal for single point of contact was never updated and the interface was archaic
County was informed that power would be restored between the October 26 and 29 events, but this never occurred and no explanation was provided
De-energization timelines provided by PG&E contradicted the website, the portal and verbal discussions
o Uninformed liaisons and PG&E line staff, were not empowered to release meaningful information to the County
o Social media beat PG&E and local governments in releasing information quickly and consistently
Undue burden on vulnerable populations, particularly our oxygen dependent and senior populations
o Difficulty obtaining life-sustaining oxygen supplies, particularly in our assisted senior facilities and in-home care patients
o Rural patients had difficulty accessing charging stations to charge medical equipment, flooding hospital emergency rooms
o Extreme cold, putting the elderly and homeless at risk for hypothermia, necessitating the County to open a cold weather shelter for our residents
o Loss of food and income for low income/fixed income populations, wide-spread food spoilage, emergency re-issuance of State provided benefits, gaps in essential services
o Air quality from fires was poor, but without electricity, residents were unable to run air purifiers
Challenges for local hospitals and EMS providers
o Increased call volumes
o Patient surge of the medically fragile community
o Inability to get oxygen, fuel, and other medical supplieso Delays in service and transfers
- Complex emergency surgeries difficult to transfer, risking patients lives due tounnecessary delays
- Dialysis patients forced to go to the single open dialysis clinic, or stay in the hospital
- for extended periods to power life-sustaining dialysis equipment
- Services and Community Impacts
o Schools closed, causing a dramatic need for emergency childcare options
o Local businesses lost much needed revenue
o Local restaurants without backup generators were forced to close, give away food and completely restock their food supplies
o Fuel supplies completely depleted, long lines and traffic jams at gas stations, necessitating Sheriff’s escort for EMS, medical suppliers, communication and fuel providers
o Wide-spread outages crippled communication providers, leaving residents without internet, land lines and emergency communications, particularly rural/remote residentso Water and sewer services were compromised
- Numerous water districts did not have generator power to pump water
- Many residents ran out of water for consumption and sanitation
- Sewage backup in multiple locations
o Lack of light, increasing risk to pedestrians
o Increase in crime, particularly theft and vandalism, the County had four vehicles vandalized and many businesses had generators stolen or destroyed
o Safety of employees, both public and private, operating long hours in dark buildings, often on generators employees may be unequipped or uninformed on how to use properly
o Interruption in both public and private services, delaying access to government services, construction and maintenance projects, legal services and financial institutionso County wide animal populations, particularly in shelters, were put at risk
House fires from use of generators, candles and outdoor camping equipment
The County has acted to the best of its ability in the public’s interest to mitigate harm, particularly tovulnerable populations, reduce the economic impact of the PSPS and ensure that the public is informed and aware of the impacts and consequences of your PSPS decision. Unfortunately, the County is dependent on PG&E to provide accurate, updated information that can be shared with the public and PG&E failed to fulfill their responsibility.
Moving forward, it is critical that PG&E adhere to their promises to provide transparent, accurate and consistent notifications/information to local government officials, increase PG&E staff capacity to allow faster response times to counties, provide adequately equipped Community Resource Centers, and to plan for and met the needs of your vulnerable and medically fragile customers.
Carre Brown, Chair
Mendocino County Board of Supervisors
CC: Honorable Gavin Newsom, California Governor California Public Utilities Commission, Honorable Jared Huffman, United States Congress Honorable Mike McGuire, California State Senate Honorable Jim Wood, California State Assembly California State Association of Counties, Rural County Representatives of California Paul Yodar and Karen Lange, Shaw/Yoder/Antwih, Inc.