A large group of angry residents from the South Bay and Santa Cruz Mountains gathered Thursday to protest against PG&E for repeated power outages and delays in getting power turned back on.
Protesters suffered through seven outages in August alone, and in some cases those outages lasted for days. PG&E said the outages are the side effect of its attempts to reduce the risks of wildfires.
The 50 or so protesters – all residents of the Santa Cruz Mountains in and around Los Gatos – assembled at PG&E offices in San Jose, which are closed to the public during the pandemic. Organizers said the lack of access is appropriate because PG&E has ignored their complaints.
"We feel they’re giving us a Hobson’s choice here, where they’re saying either we can have power or we can have safety, but we can’t have both," protest organizer Eric Horton said. "We disagree. The technology exists."
The group said their area covers around 5,000 residents throughout the mountains. They emphasized that they understand the utility does need to switch off power for a wildfire threat but said PG&E has not tried to improve the system to help individual sections.
"Right now, they actually set up one recloser for 14 neighborhoods, so this is one sensor for 98-miles worth of line," Horton said.
The group said extended outages lead to numerous dangers, especially for the most vulnerable.
"We have enough oxygen in tanks to last for one day," resident Mariquita West said. "That is really scary."
Resident Craig Carlson also expressed his concerns.
"We’ve already had people tripping and falling, getting head injuries," he said. "It’s only a matter of time before there’s a tragedy with carbon monoxide from a generator or an overloaded generator causing a fire."
PG&E reiterated its position that, with apologies, the utility must prioritize public safety for a wildfire threat and that restoration is often slow because PG&E needs to take meticulous caution when turning the complex system back on.
The next step for the group is to join a town meeting Thursday night with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. They plan to be familiar faces and voices to a lot of local political leaders.
PG&E officials released a statement to NBC Bay Area Thursday:
"PG&E’s most important responsibility is the safety of the customers and communities we are privileged to serve. Given the growing threat of wildfire, PG&E is evolving its wildfire prevention efforts for the safety of our customers and communities. Nearly one-third of the electric lines that provide PG&E customers with power are in High Fire-Threat District (HFTD) areas, as designated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), including the Los Gatos area. California, Oregon and Washington, along with several other western states, continue to experience an increase in wildfire risk and a longer wildfire season."