Do California power shutoffs work? Hard to know, experts say

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Millions of Californians spent part of the week in the dark in an unprecedented effort by the state’s large electrical utilities to prevent another devastating wildfire. It was the fifth time Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has preemptively cut the power but by far the largest to date in the utility’s effort to prevent a deadly wildfire sparked by its power lines.

But do the power shut-offs actually prevent fires?

Experts say it’s hard to know what might have happened had the power stayed on, or if the utility’s proactive shutoffs are to thank for California’s mild fire season this year.

“It’s like trying to prove a negative,” said Alan Scheller-Wolf, professor of operations management and an energy expert at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. “They can’t prove they prevented a disaster because there’s no alternative universe where they didn’t try this.”

The winds that prompted the mass outage that affected about 2 million people in northern and central parts of the state shifted southward by Thursday, where a wind-driven wildfire led officials to order the evacuation of 100,000 people from their homes in foothills of the San Fernando Valley.

Read more at the Associated Press.

PG&E CEO Apologizes To Customers: ‘We Were Not Adequately Prepared’

PG&E CEO Bill Johnson admitted during a Thursday evening press conference that the utility thoroughly botched its Public Safety Power Shutoff, apologizing to customers.

The press conference at the utility’s San Francisco headquarters marked the first time the company’s head had publicly addressed the shutdown.

“We faced a choice between hardship on everyone or safety and we chose safety,” said Johnson. “And I do apologize for the hardship this has caused, but I think we made the right call on safety.”

Johnson also apologized for all the technical problems with the PG&E website and promised to get them right next time.

“Our website crashed several times. Our maps are inconsistent and maybe incorrect. Our call centers were overloaded,” said Johnson. “To put it simply, we were not adequately prepared to support the operational event.”

Read more at CBS SF BayArea


The new face of Sacramento’s affordable housing crisis: College students forced to drop out

After classes at Sacramento State, when others had gone home, Alvin Prasad would spend the night sleeping in his Honda. He couldn’t afford an apartment and was too tired to drive to his parents’ Modesto home. “In winter, you have a blanket, sometimes it’s not warm enough.”

Criminal justice major Jayda Preyer chose Sacramento for college because rents here were lower than San Francisco. Then the rents here soared. Without family help, she’s in 30-day emergency housing on campus, not knowing what happens next. “I believe in God. I’ll be OK. But it’s very nerve-wracking.”

Alexandra Lopez is more fortunate. She has an apartment and job, but a recent pay increase disqualified her for a CalFresh food subsidy. She’s among many California students who queue for free food at their campus pantry. “I had to use the money I made to keep a roof over my head. This is hard to experience.”

Read more at The Sacramento Bee.

PG&E Starts to Cut Power for Nearly 800,000 California Customers on Wildfire Risk

PG&E Corp. PCG +0.92% has begun to shut off power to hundreds of thousands of people in California as it seeks to prevent its electric lines from sparking more deadly wildfires, in what is believed to be the largest such pre-emptive blackout ever.

The outages are poised to hit areas across the northern and central parts of the state, including the famous wine country region, the rural Sierra Nevada foothills and portions of Oakland and San Jose. The utility is implementing the shut-offs as strong, dry winds are expected to hit the region, increasing the risk that its equipment could start fires.

PG&E said early Wednesday the shut-offs will occur in three phases, the first of which began affecting about 513,000 customers from around midnight local time. These outages will be spread across 22 counties, the utility said, including Napa, Mendocino and Sonoma in the wine country region.

Read more at WSJ.

First Hand Testimony: How the Homeless Crisis is Changing the Safest Communities in California

‘We need our neighborhood back. We need public safety reforms and more police presence in our community, and higher numbers of law enforcement overall.’

In our last article we featured the issues affecting the historic Sacramento neighborhood of Land Park, which has been considered the safest community in Sacramento for decades. But residents and business owners say that is no longer the case, citing the transient population as the cause for rampant drug activity, serial theft and violence.

Jennifer Mann, who lives in Land Park and works in downtown Sacramento in the hospitality industry, says she hears from her clients about cities they will no longer take their business to for fear of their attendees’ safety. “There are comments that Sacramento is looking like one of those cities, which is sad, as we have really moved in an exciting direction with development and energy in the downtown core. But even more disturbing to me, and what impacts my daily life and the lives of my children, are the transients that in recent years have been pushed out of downtown to live under the freeways, and into these beautiful, historic neighborhoods. It saddens me that I no longer feel safe to let my children walk to school or go to the park. I have neighbors who have found needles near the play structures, have found people sleeping or sneaking into their backyards, and a few that have had dangerous interactions with these individuals.”

Read more at The California Globe

San Francisco residents use rocks to block homeless camping

by Olga R. Rodriguez October 1, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A group of San Francisco neighbors said they had to do something to make their street safe. Their answer? Some giant rocks.

Fed up with what they see as the city’s failure to combat homelessness and rampant drug use, the neighbors had boulders delivered to their sidewalk to block people from pitching tents on their street.

That started a fight that shows the frustration with an unprecedented homelessness crisis in California. Cities are struggling to address the lack of affordable housing and a growing number of homeless encampments that are popping up on city streets, sometimes in neighborhoods.

Read more at the Associated Press

Assembly Bill 133 can help keep seniors in their homes

Prior to the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, it was not uncommon for seniors on fixed incomes who had already paid off their mortgages to nonetheless lose their homes because they couldn’t afford to pay their property taxes.

While Proposition 13 continues to protect millions of older Californians by providing reasonable and predictable property tax liability, for low-income seniors it may not be enough.

Voter approved local bonds and parcel taxes that are added to property tax bills above and beyond Proposition 13’s one percent cap have typically added hundreds of dollars a year to individual property tax bills across the state.

One of the state programs meant to help seniors over age 65, the blind, and the disabled stay in their homes is the Property Tax Postponement program or PTP.

The concept behind the Tax Postponement program is simple. A lien is placed against the home of an eligible individual and all property taxes are deferred.

Later, when the homeowner moves, the taxes are paid out of the sale of the home plus simple interest.

The program worked perfectly for 40 years. Beyond paying for itself, 6,000 homeowners from across California benefit from the Property Tax Postponement program.

Read more at the Los Angeles Daily News.

Big change in California’s Proposition 13 could be headed to ballot

California’s largest companies could find themselves paying an additional $11 billion a year in property taxes under a ballot measure that would dramatically revise the state’s tax-cutting Proposition 13.

Schools and Communities First, a wide-ranging group of community organizations, education advocates, unions and foundations, turned in 860,000 signatures Tuesday that could put that initiative on the November 2020 state ballot.

Under Prop. 13, all California property, residential and commercial, is reassessed only when it is sold. Houses and condominiums, however, can turn over every few years, while many large businesses occupy their land for decades — meaning some have not had property reassessed since Prop. 13 passed 40 years ago.

The proposed ballot measure calls for a split tax roll that would require commercial and industrial property — but not homes and small businesses — to be regularly reassessed and taxed at their full value.

Read more at the SF Chronicle

Priced Out: The Crushing Cost of Living in California

There’s an insidious force chipping away at a historic pillar of modern America.

This force is all around us: in the car repairs we put off; the medical visits we delay; the vacations we can’t afford to take; the healthier food we don’t buy; the homes we can’t afford and in the rest of our financial shpilkes, or anxiety. It is the increasing economic fragility of middle-income America.

How else can we explain a housing market that is vacuuming up savings that many of us used to put away for retirement? Today companies frequently distribute profits to shareholders that traditionally funded employee pensions. Beyond that, in the increasingly gig-driven economy, we have less and less access to good and affordable health care, paid vacations, workers comp, job stability or even true career trajectories.

Read more at Capital and Main

San Francisco metro area has lost 31,000 home-owning families in 10 years

It’s no secret the San Francisco Bay Area can be a tough place to raise kids, and now a new report sheds light on those families sticking out.

Looking at data from the U.S. Census Bureau, RentCafe found the number of families with children who own their homes in the San Francisco metro area has dropped dramatically, while an increasing number are renting.

(Note: The metro area is defined as per the U.S. Census Bureau’s as San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward.)

Researchers at the apartment search site found a 10 percent decrease in homeowner families, meaning 31,000 fewer households with children within the metro area. On the flip side, there was a 33 percent jump across the 10-year period in families renting, with an increase of 57,000 renter households.


Read more at the SFGate