LAKE COUNTY— Placing a lot of the blame on Pacific Gas and Electric for responses surrounding last October’s prolonged power shut-offs, the Grand Jury in its 2019-2020 final report found that communication from the embattled utility was “spotty” and “made appropriate responses from Lake County difficult,” among other findings.
The Grand Jury recommended the county establish a public information officer within the Office of Emergency Services, and concluded that “even more detailed planning from the cities and the county is needed to coordinate responses to simultaneous emergency situations.”
Entitled “Five Days in October,” the segment of the report addressed the first power shut-off in 2019, a multi-county event that lasted from October 9 through October 12, turning off electricity to the county’s 65,000 residents and the subsequent shut down on October 23 which began at the same time as the Kincaid Fire in Sonoma County. As the report noted, this event overlapped the entire five-day power shutoff, with simultaneous crises and resources diverted to the fire which took priority over the blackout response.
“While much has been made of PG&E’s fumbling and failures, county civil grand juries do not investigate private companies. We have focused instead on the ways in which Lake County leaders, departments, and residents persevered, interacted, adapted, and communicated during this man-made emergency, and to succeed at maintaining all essential services,” the Grand Jury wrote.
After a detailed summary of the events from last fall, the Grand Jury enumerated the effects the blackouts had on rural areas like Lake County including farmers’ inability to irrigate crops and orchards, or to provide water to livestock as a result of the power being turned off, and effects to the county’s Public Health and other departments including its Social Services department.
“The loss of pump power can cause serious sewage and septic issues. Many of our residents found themselves unable to bathe or flush the toilet,” the Grand Jury wrote in reference to the effects suffered by rural parts of the state including Lake County.
Significant effects to county schools were also detailed in the report which noted that repeated emergencies have forced many temporary school closures over the past five years. Since the 2015 Rocky Fire, Lake County students have lost a cumulative 174 school days, and that is before the massive disruption of COVID-19. “Our children have lost instruction, food, and attention to their socio-emotional needs that schools provide. Teachers and staff have lost time for planning, professional development, and Individual Education Plans,” the Grand Jury observed.
A central theme in the discussion is the new complication which emerged as a result of the current health crisis. The report noted that the Shelter In Place (SIP) order has made a potential PG&E blackout event a real crisis, especially if coupled with an evacuation from a wildfire incident. The Grand Jury found that “neighborhoods and the general public were not adequately prepared for PSPS events,” and that with the emergence of the COVID19 pandemic, “the threat of a triple emergency- wildfire evacuation, shelter in place and PSPS- could unfold making effective official responses extremely difficult.”
Among its recommendations, the Grandy Jury stated “lost school time could be partially remediated by putting inclement weather days back into district calendars to add emergency flexibility. Districts and unions should negotiate mutually acceptable terms for schools to adapt to PSPS impacts.” Additionally, they noted that “A PIO could assist neighborhoods, Home Owner’s Associations (HOAs), service organizations, and the general public to prepare for blackouts and other emergency events through regular meetings and workshops.”
Pursuant to Penal Code sections 933 and 933.05, the Board of Supervisors are legally required to respond within 90 days from the Grand Jury issuing their report. Other agencies such as the city of Lakeport and City of Clearlake have a similar time frame, whereas other agencies including the Lake County Sheriff’s Office have 60 days to respond.
Lake County Record-Bee
By ARIEL CARMONA
July 8, 2020