Pacific Gas and Electric has sent out a letter to dozens of its non-profit “community partners” warning them that a potentially “unlimited” North Bay wildfire liability could imperil funding unless the legislature eases that legal burden.
“I think they are just preparing us, letting us know that ‘hey, this is what might happen – we might have to pull some of the funding,’’’ says Letitia Hanke, owner of a North Bay roofing company who runs a PG&E funded non-profit to prepare Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park high school students for construction jobs.
The letter, sent on Jan. 24, cites a massive potential legal liability – which some put in the billions of dollars – that could trigger a cut in donations and grant funding.
“This type of unlimited liability may affect our charitable giving and other non-profit community activities,” wrote PG&E external affairs vice president Travis Kiyota.
His letter says the utility is urging lawmakers to protect the state’s utilities from total fire liability, for “all’’ of their sakes.
“It is vital to us, to our communities and to the non-profits we serve, that we continue to have the resources to support their critical efforts,” Kiyota wrote.
State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), a frequent critic of the utility, says the letter is a thinly veiled effort to get worthy causes to lobby lawmakers into letting PG&E off the hook for fire damage – even if it is to blame.
“That’s not right,” Hill said after reading the letter. He says the utility has stepped up lobbying following the North Bay firestorms and is now calling on groups it has funded to help out.
“That’s where they are being used: They’re credible organizations, they have good will. PG&E is trying to buy that credibility and goodwill because they don’t have it on their own.”
At Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park, Emily Vallejo hopes Hanke’s program will help her start an interior design business.
“If it wasn’t available for other people, that would be pretty sad,” she said outside the classroom. “Because…most people don’t really have the opportunity right now.”
Letter or no letter, Hanke said she still supports PG&E because it provided the seed money for her NextGen Trades Academy program three years ago.
“When I went to them about this program – it is kind of out of blue, no one was really doing it,” she said. “They are like, ‘Yeah, this is what we need to do.’ So I will be there for them, just like they were for me.”
PG&E would not answer questions, simply saying the letter speaks for itself.