It’s been about four months since the Coastside went dark as part of PG&E’s public safety power shut-offs aimed at preventing wildfires. The two incidents that impacted San Mateo County, however, remain fresh in the minds of many business owners and residents still accruing financial losses. 

To better prepare the county for future PG&E planned power shut-offs, the state allocated $549,793 to San Mateo County.

“The county is still discussing the use, but I am sure it has to do with probably paying for infrastructure things that failed and ways to back up that infrastructure,” said San Mateo County Sheriff’s Capt. Scott Kirkpatrick, who directs the department’s Homeland Security Division.

It’s unclear if more funds will be distributed to the county, but this is seen as a “first attempt at trying to ease the burden,” Kirkpatrick said. The funds are not intended to cover costs from previous shut-offs. 

“It would not nearly be enough anyway,” Kirkpatrick said. 

In October, Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau CEO Krystlyn Giedt conducted a survey to gauge the losses. Together, respondents estimated $1 million in losses to local businesses because of the power shut-offs. 

PG&E offered reimbursements related to the Oct. 9 public safety power shut-off because of issues related to the computer systems being down, according to company spokesman Jeff Smith. Businesses impacted received $250 and residential customers received $100, according to Smith. 

However, because such shut-offs are considered “weather-related” events, Smith said reimbursements for shut-off events in the future will not be considered. 

In preparation for the next wildfire season, Smith said the utility company is working to harden the system by installing fire resistant poles and underground facilities where possible to “reduce the size and scope of the public safety shut-offs.” Company officials originally indicated such shut-offs would be likely for at least a decade, however they have since suggested efforts to harden the system could mean better service within the decade.

Giedt said she’s advocating for PG&E to offer additional reimbursements and for insurance companies to pay up. 

“The city, county and the state have been working hard to address the needs, but ultimately the two real money-making entities are PG&E and the insurance companies,” she said. 

After dealing with financial losses in the fall, Giedt said “… January is a kind of make it or break it month for many businesses.” 

“I’ve heard so far that the holiday sales were on par with previous years, but it did not compensate for money already lost,” she said.

One local restaurant that reported significant financial losses related to the planned shut-offs was the Cove Cafe.

Despite a good holiday season, owner Aaron Little said, “We will never recoup the losses from the outages.”

Little reported $15,000 to $20,000 in losses related to the shut-offs. In addition to operating the cafe, he also owns Assemble to Order Catering.

The losses are particularly challenging to small businesses, he said. With the slower tourist season approaching, Little said he’s “just hoping to get to summer.”

“The whole thing was disheartening but we stand behind our business. We love being in business here,” he said. “…But my insurance company screwed me. No one took care of the little guy.” 

Little has taken proactive measures before any future shut-offs. He relocated one of his commercial refrigerators to his home, which has a generator, to be able to store food in the event of an outage. 

Giedt said she is planning a meeting in January to reconnect with business owners to discuss how to prepare for future shut-offs.

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