TOP 5 STORIES OF 2019: Lasting, widespread impact of PG&E power shutoffs is story of the year
Among all news stories published on page one in 2019, none had the widespread impact of PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoffs.
Pacific Gas & Electric — after filing for bankruptcy in the wake of sparking the 2018 Camp Fire, the most destructive blaze in state history — took a new approach to mitigating the threat of wildfire by shutting down its own equipment in the event of high winds and dangerously dry conditions.
Area businesses are still reeling from the damage done after losing power, and the ability to operate without generator power, as some areas in Nevada County had their power shut down a half dozen times from September to November.
The shutoffs impacted hundreds of thousands of customers across the North State, with a collective $2 billion in estimated losses. Losses varied from $10,000 to $100,000 for Nevada County businesses.
“They’ve never dealt with anything like this in their 60 years of business,” Grass Valley Downtown Association Executive Director Marni Marshall said in November of area merchants.
The first shutoff, Oct. 9, largely caught the community and 43,217 PG&E customers in the county off guard, leaving many scrambling to find flashlights, get gas in their tanks and go about their daily lives. The Robinson Enterprises fleet fueling station off Lower Grass Valley Road in Nevada City saw many of those people, as it was one of the only gas stations to continue pumping gas.
That outage, affecting more than a half-million people in the North State, proved to be a just a preview of what was to come.
But as the area felt the pain of having no power, the community also pulled together to support those most impacted. Nevada County, officials working across all agencies, focused on helping prepare residents for future shutoffs to help mitigate the impact to residents and the economy. The chambers of commerce have encouraged more spending at local businesses and restaurants to help employees and owners recover from the lost income during the shutoffs.
According to the Associated Press, 16 million people — more than the population of nearly any U.S. state — depend on PG&E for power. The shutoffs were an inconvenience for some and extremely costly for others. For society’s most frail, they brought questions of life and death.
Many municipalities, counties and agencies are working to either make PG&E’s assets customer-owned or to take them over altogether. Though it broached the topic locally, the Nevada Irrigation District has since shelved discussion on taking such action.
In a jointly signed letter local government officials called for the commission to ensure cell and landline communications are available during power shutoffs, provide subsidized health and safety supplies like generators and oxygen devices, require future shutoffs are more precisely targeted and communicate more consistently with the utility company’s customers.
According to the letter, responding to last month’s power shutoffs cost the county government more than $350,000. The letter used survey data to estimate food service business losses at nearly $400,000 each day and small retail business losses as high as $5,000 per day.
READY NEVADA COUNTY
Fire prevention was top of mind for many community members well before the PG&E’s power shutoffs began, as officials worked to get Nevada County ready for wildfire.
Cal Fire, Nevada County Consolidated, Grass Valley and Nevada City and all area fire departments, the Office of Emergency Services, the Fire Safe Council, the Resource Conservation District, the Forest Service, PG&E, local elected officials and government leaders all took a seat at the table to bring their expertise as stakeholders.
The county’s Office of Emergency Services held “Ready, Set Go!” sessions, educating attendees on Code Red Emergency alerts and Red Flag warning days, as well as providing a forum for questions. The Sheriff’s Office and Office of Emergency Services rolled out a new siren, specifically to alert residents when they must evacuate. And training sessions were organized in several areas to help people know what to expect in such an emergency.
Loss of homeowners insurance led state Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara in August to come to Grass Valley for a town hall meeting. People learned that complaints about non-renewals increased 600% since 2010 in spots with increased fire risk.
In November, Cal Fire and the Fire Safe Council gave supervisors and officials a firsthand look at work being done on the Ponderosa West Grass Valley Defense Zone Project during an on-site tour of private and county-owned parcels. To that point, the fuel break was 67% complete with 269 acres of land abated for wildfire.
Earlier this month, the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County trained 40 new Defensible Space Advisors, now ready to conduct free, one-on-one advisory visits — which the council said jumped from 300 in 2018 to 1,310 visits in 2019, following the devastation of the Camp Fire in Paradise.
WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP
In January, Shannan Moon made history as the first woman to be sworn in as Nevada County sheriff, two months after winning election to replace Keith Royal, who retired after 20 years in the post.
Moon was 22 years old when she began her law enforcement career as a correctional officer. In two past promotions Moon had her father — who served in law enforcement for 29 years — attach a pin to her uniform. Her mother performed the duty once. Moon’s wife, Amy, stepped up for the honor in January, as she was sworn in as sheriff.
In August, Moon announced the appointment of Alicia Burget as the county’s first female undersheriff.
“Her commitment to public service in Nevada County is apparent by her dedicated service over the last 21 years in our community,” Moon said in announcing the appointment.
The promotion continued a recent county trend of women moving into prominent leadership positions, including Alison Lehman becoming Nevada County’s first female CEO and the appointment of Assistant CEO Mali Dyck. Both mayoral seats in western Nevada County are also currently filled by women with Reinette Senum (Nevada City) and Lisa Swarthout (Grass Valley).
“This has been quite the journey,” Moon told the standing-room only crowd in the Eric Rood Administrative Center after being sworn in. “I am extremely honored and humbled.”
After a January purchase of an Old Tunnel Road property in Grass Valley, the county was denied Community Development Block Grant funding for the Glenbrook Basin’s planned homeless resource center.
As part of a “housing first” initiative, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved spending $223,900 a 5-acre parcel for an estimated 6,000-square-foot day center and 40 housing units, both of which hinge on outside funding. The cost of the day center could reach an estimated $4 million or $5 million. The cost of the housing units is unknown, said Mike Dent, the county’s director of child support, collections, housing and community services.
But officials are looking for more short- and long-term funding opportunities and an interim location to provide the resources the day center would eventually offer.
Nevada County also in 2019 entered into an agreement with Nevada City and nonprofit Sierra Roots to assist in the operations of a warming shelter in winter months. Following criticism that it was not open enough last year, whether the shelter will now open is a determination made by the Nevada County Office of Emergency Services.
The year also saw community volunteers help clean up area homeless encampments. In May, Hospitality House and the California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project collaborated with the Nisenan Tribe to clean up abandoned homeless camps along Deer Creek, Champion Mine Road and Old Downieville Highway. During the annual Yuba River Cleanup in September, SYRCL and Hospitality House teamed up to discuss the impact of homelessness on the community’s watersheds.
In October, volunteers were joined by representatives of Hospitality House, Nevada County, the cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City, along with Grass Valley police and the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office in cleaning up a camp near Plaza Drive in the Glenbrook Basin.
In May, Nevada County supervisors approved new cannabis cultivation regulations after almost three years of community discussion stemming from the failure of a June 2016 outdoor grow ban.
The urgency ordinance allows commercial, medicinal grows that meet certain requirements. Commercial grows can exist on General Agricultural, Exclusive Agricultural and Forest zones, if they’re on 5 acres or more. The maximum size of a grow is based on acreage. No grow may exceed 10,000 square feet. Those grows must sit on at least 20 properly zoned acres. Rules differ for indoor, mixed light and outdoor grows. No outdoor grow is allowed under 5 acres.
The action established legal cannabis cultivation regulations after years of negotiations between the county and cannabis growers dating back to 2011, when the county began to develop a draft ordinance regulating the cultivation of medical cannabis.
Following the failure of Measure W, a ban on cannabis cultivation in 2016, an advisory group began working on a permanent ordinance.
In June, Nevada County Cannabis Compliance permitted the first Commercial Medical Cannabis Cultivation site in Nevada County.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.