MANTECA, Calif. — At Manteca’s packed City Council meeting Tuesday night, a PG&E spokesperson got grilled by the mayor and councilmembers about the utility’s power shutoff plans.
Last month, PG&E started notifying customers of its newly expanded Public Safety Power Shutoff program to avoid sparking wildfires during fire-favorable weather – hot, dry and windy.
The plan includes shutting off electricity to wide swaths of communities along affected transmission lines, which can span dozens of miles and several communities, PG&E says.
That means that even Manteca, which isn’t in an immediate fire danger zone, can lose power.
News of the plan has raised pointed questions by people all over Northern California – some of which Manteca Mayor Benjamin Cantu and his fellow councilmembers got to ask Tuesday evening in front of a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 people.
PG&E spokesperson Dylan George gave a presentation to the council about the shutoff program and then took questions.
"Let me be a little crude. The people in this town are pissed," Cantu said. “How do you address a person who has a freezer full of food and it's going to spoil in a couple of days. Who's going to pay for that?"
"We're out here trying everything we can to tell people to be prepared for this kind of scenario, whether that means, you know, you have to pump water ahead of time and store it, whether that means back-up generation, if that's something that you can afford or that's available to you,” George replied.
Councilmember Gary Singh asked George what happens if the power outage lasts up to five days, as PG&E has told the city it could.
“What happens to all the businesses that don't have backup generators? And what happens at night when everything is off and everybody's looting and, you know, breaking windows,” Singh asked, to applause from the audience. “Where's the safety side?"
"There are going to be impacts,” George admitted. “When you take away power, there are going to be public safety impacts, there are going to be economic impacts to it."
"What about the expenses the city's going to incur to try to minimize those impacts within our city?" Singh followed up.
"Well, I mean, if you're asking if PG&E's going to pay for that, that's not the plan at this point for us to,” George said, which elicited snickers in the crowd behind him. “That was an honest answer, I hope, at least."
"Yeah, and we're supposed to absorb that (cost), right?" Singh said.
"Again, it's going to be impactful,” George said. “There's going to be economic impacts all the way around."
"You know, the sad thing here is that it's not PG&E who's going to pay for this,” Mayor Cantu said, defeatedly. “It's the rest of us here that are going to pay for it. You know, corporate PG&E has had a chokehold on this community and this state for 150 years. Now, you would think in 150 years, you would've learned the lessons that you learned in the last year or two. You simply got caught and now you have to do it, and it's going to fall on our backs."
For more on the conversation at Tuesday’s council meeting, check out ABC10 reporter Becca Habegger’s Twitter feed from the meeting.
You can also continue the conversation on her Facebook page.