image-gazos creek fire
Fire burned through the brush near Gazos Creek Road and Highway 92 overnight on Thursday. The fire was just one part of a dark and dangerous week on the coast. Photo courtesy Jaden Schaul

It’s been a challenging week on the Coastside as a pair of power outages left residents and businesses in limbo. After two days without power, residents enjoyed Tuesday with the lights on before heading to bed knowing PG&E was threatening to turn off the switch once more. 

At press time, PG&E planned to shut off power — sometimes known by the acronym PSPS — around 10 p.m. on Tuesday and begin restoring power Wednesday morning. The company cautioned that the time could shift and that it may take hours or days to restore power. 

With three public safety power shut-offs in October, one common thread has been inconsistent information. The first shut-off early in the month left many frustrated when the utility company kept changing what time the outage would occur. PG&E’s website was down for most of the event. The second shut-off last weekend was delayed as well, but PG&E waffled on whether the Coastside would be included and didn’t confirm the third shut-off until the day before it was scheduled to occur. 

PG&E officials have cited changing weather patterns as the reason for the delays and alterations. Despite these precautionary measures, the utility has faced criticism from public leaders. Its power lines may be responsible for at least two fires in the Bay Area last weekend, and, although no official cause has been determined, a line malfunctioned minutes before the roaring Kincade Fire started in Sonoma County. 

 

Official responses

On Monday, the California Public Utilities Commission announced plans to launch a formal investigation into the shut-offs in the next month. In a press release, the commission said it will examine protocol to determine whether these events can be reduced during the next fire season. 

“The state cannot continue to experience PSPS events on the scope and scale Californians have experienced this month, nor should Californians be subject to the poor execution that PG&E in particular has exhibited,” said Public Utilities Commission President Marybel Batjer in a press release. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who declared a state of emergency on Sunday, has had harsh words for the utility company, recently tweeting that PG&E’s “years of greed and mismanagement are over.” Newsom has called for the Public Utilities Commission to institute a “total reform” of the rules surrounding shut-offs and launched a $75 million program in response to the outages to support local governments. 

Locally, the city of Half Moon Bay has offered emailed updates on the situation. It also stepped in to open its own resource center and charging station over the weekend when PG&E declined to open one of its own in the city.

People from across the Coastside used the makeshift center at the Ted Adcock Community Center from the minute it opened, thankful for the free Starbucks coffee and pastries provided by city staff. Others used WiFi provided through hotspots from the library to work on their laptops. 

“It’s very Half Moon Bay,” Deputy City Manager Matthew Chidester said. “We’re just pulling everybody together.” 

The center is scheduled to be open again at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday and to remain open until power is restored.

The Coastside Community Emergency Response Teams were not activated. CalFire Chief Ian Larkin previously told the Review that disasters such as major earthquakes, wildland fires and storm-related events would warrant CERT activation. These shut-offs haven’t risen to that level, Larkin said. 

The South Coast CERT team, however, was activated to help at the La Honda Fire Brigade’s operations during the first and second October outages. CERT members, HAM radio operators and firefighters worked together and were prepared to field emergency reports. With limited cell service along much of the South Coast, Battalion Chief Ari Delay said it was important to establish a communication hub. 

“They’ve been steadfast monitoring the whole situation,” Delay said. 

La Honda has been particularly hard hit. It remained without power on Tuesday as locals readied for a prolonged outage. A PG&E resource center is available to residents at the La Honda Fire Brigade.  

 

Coastside residents coped

Amid the anticipation leading up to 8 p.m. on Saturday, when PG&E turned off the lights, the coast was as busy as ever. Tourists visited pumpkin farms and clogged Main Street while locals tried to prepare. 

Caltrans installed generators at three main intersections in the city, and officials said generators were in place at the Devil’s Slide tunnels to ensure the passage remained open. 

The influx of customers at Hasset Hardware caused one employee to compare the situation to Christmas. The Coastside’s largest hardware retailer had sold out of generators by Saturday — including 52 sales of one popular model.

“Flashlights, batteries and propane, propane, propane,” said Hassett buyer Jennifer Augustine.

Through the duration of the two-day shut-off, locals bemoaned the cold showers, spoiled food, terrible traffic, poor cell service and internet connection, and the overall inconvenience. 

Sam’s Chowder House and Cameron’s Pub and Restaurant, among the few restaurants that were fully operational, were packed on Sunday. At Cameron’s, it was standing-room- only as people craned to watch the San Francisco 49ers game or Game 5 of the World Series. 

Meanwhile, firefighters extinguished a 62-acre fire, called the Cabrillo Fire, near Highway 1 and Gazos Creek Road. It began on Thursday and wasn’t fully extinguished until Sunday. 

Monday morning, many of those in search of their daily caffeine fix were found at Spangler’s Market in El Granada or Cunha’s Country Grocery. Spangler’s Market owner Daniel Spangler purchased a generator in preparation for the shut-offs, but he couldn’t keep the deli in Half Moon Bay open. However, he was able to bring over extra coffee and pots to brew enough to meet the demand in El Granada. 

“We were pillaged on Sunday because everyone was home waiting out the outage,” he said. “We made over 500 sandwiches that day.” 

By midday, several more restaurants and stores were able to open with limited selections and relied on cash-based exchanges.

 

School continued 

For most students on the Coastside, school operated as scheduled. Teachers at Farallone View Elementary School used light from the windows and camping lanterns to illuminate their classrooms.

“The kids are good in these situations, but of course things are a bit different,” said Sandy Myers, administrative assistant. 

The school’s breakfast and lunch program continued as normal, but offerings were slightly different. Food Service Assistant Karla Bullene said the milk had gone bad in the refrigerator and needed to be discarded, as well as everything left in the freezer and refrigerator.

The school district’s food distributor delivered breakfast, which included fresh fruit, juice and a muffin top, and lunch was a cold sandwich.

“They are being good-natured about it,” Bullene said. “Everybody is learning to adapt.”

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