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What a Week: Lights out in Danville

Town Council to hear from PG&E about scourge of prolonged outages
Angry homeowner using candles during power outage. (Stock photo)

Someone is finally going to put PG&E under the spotlight for what's been going on in Danville over the last year.

All of us throughout the East Bay have been impacted by power outages due to high winds or atmospheric rivers or public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) or electricity grid concerns during excessive heat. But what Danville residents and businesses continue to experience is absurdity to the extreme.

Town Manager Joe Calabrigo, who is probably the most measured public administrator I've observed in my career, is clearly fed up.

Jeremy Walsh, editorial director. Photo by Anmarie Fielding-Weeks

After yet another prolonged power outage, affecting 5,900 customers in Danville over two days (extrapolated out, that's close to one-third of the town's population of 44,000 residents), Calabrigo wrote a letter to the highest executives at the utility company demanding answers for residents. He pulled no punches.

"We've been hearing about everything that PG&E has been doing to improve the power grid in terms of safety and reliability, yet to the many being affected by these outages, things seem to be worse than ever," Calabrigo said in his Aug. 15 letter. "Telling our residents that they should consider buying a generator in 2023 doesn't cut it. Shouldn't our residents be able to expect a system that is safe and reliable?"

The letter included an invitation to appear before the Danville Town Council, which PG&E accepted for the regular meeting next Tuesday (Sept. 5). It promises to be a candid discussion.

"PG&E is really starting to piss people off," Danville Mayor Robert Storer told me over the weekend.

"Like most of our residents and especially our business community, we are completely frustrated with the lack of information, especially with absolutely no notice when power will be shut off -- on the enhanced powerline safety settings (EPSS) system -- and no follow-up allowing our residents to better understand when power will be restored," Storer said.

We're still working to collect hard data on the number of major outages in Danville (and Alamo and other nearby unincorporated areas) between summer 2022 and today.

Anecdotally though, I can say I've been stunned so many times over the past year seeing alerts on social media with PG&E maps showing outage areas so large they appear to be pushing square miles, and certainly thousands of homes and dozens of businesses. For hours, even days, at a time.

And not just the outer edges of the town limits or neighborhoods near dry hills or vast open spaces; the downtown core and other areas right around the freeway have been commonly impacted too.

We're talking more than just people at home not being able to watch TV, kids who can't play video games or retail shops that have to close an hour early.

These are families (by the thousands!) not able to cool their homes during hot summer days in Danville, or heat their homes while sitting in the dark for extra hours in the winter. These are senior residents, parents with infants, people with medical needs such as oxygen tanks and other vulnerable populations forced to uproot for hours or even days and remember, there are those who can't just do that on a whim, if at all.

These are businesses losing valuable operational time, employees missing out on income, restaurants having to toss food out without refrigeration and vital service appointments being canceled.

The lists go on and on.

"I believe we need to carve out our downtown business community, so they are not affected, and once again only affect the homes in the most high-risk areas," Storer said. "This complete disregard for the community and this extreme inconvenience is beginning to really bother people, especially when power is not available for days with literally no updates in sight."

Storer recalled one time recently when the power was shut off at his Danville home without warning at 6:10 p.m. on a Friday night and restored at 10 a.m. that Saturday, with the first update only coming through at midnight while he was sleeping.

I reached out to PG&E representatives this week for a copy of whatever response they sent to Calabrigo's letter. Spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian only said, "We are continuing to investigate the power outages, and our Bay Area regional vice president will be presenting the latest information at the upcoming meeting" while also referring me to a recent short post from PG&E to customers via Nextdoor.

The message describes ongoing work to repair "damaged underground cable and overhead equipment in the Danville and Alamo communities" that resulted in "some customers are being provided electricity through a different circuit."

"This temporary situation resulted in more customers being impacted when an outage occurred The temporary grid configuration also meant that a larger portion of the electric system had (EPSS) in place. While these settings help keep you safe, unexpected power outages have occurred," PG&E stated on Nextdoor.

"Losing power for any amount of time is disruptive. We are continuing to look at options to improve reliability in your neighborhood -- without sacrificing safety," the utility company added.

I'm not so sure that did the job to really explain things and quell the understandable frustrations in the San Ramon Valley, especially when their blood has also been boiling due to exorbitant PG&E bills.

Utilities can be a jurisdictional nightmare for people trying to understand which agency (let alone which person) to contact for a straight answer on something that is supposed to be a public necessity. Residents and businesses often turn to their town government when really the power is PG&E's responsibility. Thankfully, Danville's leadership is taking a stand to support their community.

The Town Council hearing is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 5); the agenda report had not been released publicly as of this drafting.

It's a meeting residents should attend or tune into -- assuming, of course, the power stays well, maybe I shouldn't joke about that, just to be safe.

Editor's note: Jeremy Walsh is the editorial director for the Embarcadero Media East Bay Division. His "What a Week" column is a recurring feature in the Pleasanton Weekly.


About the Author: Jeremy Walsh

Jeremy, a Benicia native and American University alum, joined Embarcadero Media in November 2013. After serving as associate editor for the Pleasanton Weekly and, he was promoted to editor of the East Bay Division in February 2017.
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