Updated: On Thursday, Coastsiders battled traffic, struggled through a long day at work and (mostly) kept their sense of humor through a full day without power after PG&E pulled the plug on a wide swath of Northern California. By the end of the workday, the power appeared to be returning to the coast.
Power was cut to most of the Coastside and Santa Cruz Mountains at about 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The power company had been threatening to do so throughout the day on Wednesday due to increased fire danger caused by a perfect storm of weather conditions that many mistook for perfect calm on the coast. The National Weather Service had issued a red flag warning and anticipated wind gusts of 28 mph overnight on the coast. For most of the day, however, there was little wind amid balmy fall temperatures.
By mid-day on Thursday, the warning had been lifted for the area. PG&E crews were seen combing the coast Thursday afternoon, inspecting equipment before flipping the switch back on. Then, at about 4 p.m., power began to return to pockets of the coast. Power was back on at City Hall at 4:45 p.m. But some around the coast reported that the power returned only to blink off again within minutes.
Kevin Rose, manager of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services, said a PG&E representative told him in the early afternoon that the coast had been given a “partial all clear” to begin inspections. The power company had warned that power could be off for up to five days after the shutdown; it hasn’t indicated when portions of San Mateo County without power might expect its return.
An email from the city of Half Moon Bay indicated that PG&E could only complete its inspections during daylight hours, suggesting some could be without power until morning.
Meanwhile, Coastsiders attempted to go about their normal weekday business. It wasn’t easy.
It began with terrible traffic for many. Midcoast residents reported gridlock due to traffic signals that blinked red throughout the day. There were deputies monitoring and directing traffic in some places, but not at all coastal pinch points. The morning traffic had largely cleared by 9:30 a.m.
Many businesses, though, found themselves in the dark throughout the day. Small and large retailers on the coast never opened on Thursday. Some, like Safeway, were open but limited by the outage. A few small businesses, like the Half Moon Bay Bakery, did brisk cash-only commerce. Gas stations that were plagued by lines hours earlier couldn’t operate due to electric components in the pumps.
The Chevron in Moss Beach stood vacant on Thursday morning. Half Moon Bay resident and manager Joe Freitas said, without power he cannot sell gas.
“It’s a huge loss,” Freitas said. “Whatever you don’t sell today, you don’t make up tomorrow.”
One vexing problem was the effect the shutdown had on internet connections on the coast. Comcast acknowledged that even people who had power might have lost their connections. “While the power to your home may be on, parts of our network that provide your Xfinity service may be in areas where the commercial power is unavailable, thereby leading to a disruption of service,” according to a blog on the company website.
Through it all, there was a steady stream of people coming to the PG&E makeshift resource center at 845 Main St. in Half Moon Bay. The center had electric power and water, but no WiFi. The center is due to remain open until 8 p.m. tonight and to reopen at 8 a.m. tomorrow, if necessary.
Schools were in session across the coast and staff and students seemed to be taking the inconvenience in stride.
"People have been educating without power for thousands of years,” said John Nazar, principal of Half Moon Bay High School.
As if to prove the point, one science teacher came dressed as history’s Marie Curie, spoke with an accent and stayed in character. Her class was "discovering" electron probability.
"I just thought I'd make it fun," teacher Marsenne Kendall said.
The situation was the same on the South Coast. La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District campuses were also in session and making do. Pescadero Middle and High School used a generator, and other campuses made use of the natural light, according to Superintendent Amy Wooliever.
Judy Cabuag is the office manager at Pescadero Elementary School. “It’s pretty much a normal day,” she said. “The kids think it’s kind of cool.”
Libby Leyden and Ashlyn Rollins-Koons contributed to this story.