PG&E Power Shutoff Takes A Toll On Santa Cruz Community

Oct 10, 2019


Nearly 40,000 PG&E customers lost power in Santa Cruz County. County officials say the restoration process is beginning. But the shutoff has taken a toll on people and businesses. 

PG&E set up a community resource center just outside Twin Lakes Church in Aptos. It’s a white tent surrounded by orange cones. Inside, PG&E reps are on hand to answer questions. There are restrooms, water and charging devices. On Thursday morning, about ten people were charging their laptops and working. 

Debby Samuels came because her cell phone had died. She’s a senior who lives alone and she’s disabled. Samuels says the outage has been tough on her,  especially because the timeline for when the outage was supposed to begin kept changing. She bought ice, but by the time she needed it, it had melted. 

“I had to get up in the middle of the night at 1:00 in the morning to transfer my food from my refrigerator to my freezer,” said Samuels. 

Her plan was to charge her phone and call around to find ice. She’s also planning to write a letter of complaint to PG&E. 

“You know, their equipment is very old and they could have been working on it for years and years and years,” Samuels said. 

Last year, PG&E’s electrical transmission lines sparked the Camp Fire in Butte County, which destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 86 people. 

Part of the utility’s new strategy to prevent disasters includes turning off the power. They’re officially called “Public Safety Power Shutoffs.” During periods of warm temperatures, high winds or low humidity, PG&E may turn off the power to prevent their equipment from sparking a wildfire.

In Santa Cruz County, the outages have been spotty. Some communities have lights on, others don’t. And while some traffic lights are working, others aren’t.

California Highway Patrol Sergeant Troy Vincent says it’s important drivers pay attention.

“A you can see, we're coming up to a stoplight and everybody's required to treat it like a stop sign. Even with that being said, once you come to a full stop, don't expect everybody stop,” Vincent said. 

Traffic lights at the intersection near the Rancho Del Mar Shopping Center in Aptos were out Thursday.
Credit Erika Mahoney

Santa Cruz CHP increased staff at intersections during this shutoff. And they’ve handed out citations for people who ran through intersections.  

Santa Cruz County officials say some generators were added to power traffic lights at heavily used intersections. That wasn’t the case for the intersection near the Rancho Del Mar shopping center in Aptos. On Thursday,  traffic was backed up as drivers waited their turn. 

At Safeway, people had to shop in the dark.
Credit Erika Mahoney

Many of the businesses at the shopping center were closed, including the Chevron gas station and Ace hardware. Safeway remained open, but customers had to shop in the dark.

At the other end of the shopping center, Katie Vidaurri was working fast. She’s the owner of Susi’s Flowers. With three weddings this weekend, she was struggling to keep her flowers fresh. Dozens of roses, jasmine and dahlias had to be moved from a truck into buckets of water.

“Normally all these dahlias would be in a nice air conditioned room with wind blowing around them so they don't get stagnant and now they're just sitting out here getting hot,” Vidaurri said. 

Katie Vidaurri of Susie's Flowers worked to keep her flowers fresh during the shutoff.
Credit Erika Mahoney

Vidaurri happens to be the daughter of a PG&E lineman. Her dad just retired after 50 years with the company. 

“PG&E was an amazing company for my dad to work for and for our family And I just I'm getting so upset with these people that are so pissed at PG&E and it's like they can't win,” Vidaurri said. 

While the shutoff is taking a toll on her business, she’s still supporting the linesman out working to restore power. 

According to Santa Cruz County officials, PG&E is beginning the process of inspecting the transmission lines and getting the power back on  in the county. That means some people may have their electricity back within 48 hours. 

Power at UC Santa Cruz was restored Thursday afternoon and classes are back on Friday. 

County officials recommend that everyone unplug their appliances and devices to avoid a surge as the power is restored.