Businesses lost more than $1M, some facing possible closures
By Zachary Clark, Daily Journal staff
The chamber is currently surveying businesses in the city about outage impacts, and so far one grocery store said it lost more than $100,000 while a restaurant lost $80,000. A larger hotel in the city is down $25,000 and several smaller boutique ones suffered about $3,000 in losses each. Many employees were also sent home without pay during the outages.
Half Moon Bay businesses collectively lost at least $1 million due to the recent power outages, and three of them said they’ll have to close for good if the electricity goes out again, according to the Chamber of Commerce.
“The business community took a huge hit,” said Krystlyn Giedt, president and CEO of the Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau. “Having two weeks hearing about businesses possibly having to close and all the headache they’ve had to go through is devastating.”
Giedt said restaurants suffered the biggest hit because they were forced to close and lost all their food. Medical businesses and hotels, which saw “lots” of canceled reservations and events, also suffered significantly, she said.
Giedt said insurance companies are not compensating businesses for their losses.
“I’ve had three businesses tell me they don’t think they can withstand this because their insurance is not willing to cover any losses,” Giedt said. “It’s made their future much harder. They think they could scrape by, but one more outage could potentially be the tipping point.”
Pacific Gas and Electric turned off the power three times within the past month because of wildfire danger due to strong winds and dry conditions. The entirety of Half Moon Bay went black for at least four days during that time and the utility warned of additional outages in the middle of last week that never came to pass. Residents weren’t notified of the cancelation of that planned outage until the next day. Many felt PG&E’s communication was lacking then and throughout the shutoffs.
“If PG&E just said the power is maybe going off depending on the weather event, a lot of businesses wouldn’t have closed, they could have played it by ear,” Giedt said. “The “will go off” versus “maybe go off” was quite honestly the difference between a couple hundred thousand dollars.”
Giedt said business owners are “outraged” with PG&E, but were happy with the city’s response to the circumstances.
“I haven’t heard from anyone upset with the city, the county, police or fire,” she said. “Everyone knows our local agencies did the absolute best they could do, but the information they were being provided was just terrible.”
City Council members echoed those sentiments.
“I think the city has done everything it could do considering the inept behavior of PG&E,” said Mayor Harvey Rarback. “In general, staff was expeditious and did a good job.”
Rarback noted the PG&E website was regularly down throughout the shutoffs as well, adding that the utility did seem to improve its communication between the first and second outage.
During the outages, PG&E officials addressed complaints that the utility’s notification process ahead of the power shutoffs was inconsistent, and that messages from PG&E officials and those from area cities and counties were not always on the same page. According to Bay City News, Andy Vesey, PG&E’s president and CEO, said in late October that the utility could always “improve our game.
Ted Adcock Center
For the longest outage last week, PG&E originally planned to open what’s called a community resource center at the library where residents could charge their phones and access restrooms and water, but decided not to at the last minute, Rarback said. So city staff immediately opened the Ted Adcock Center, which can be powered by generators. There were numerous outlets to charge devices, WiFi was up and running and staff brought coffee and snacks from elsewhere in the county.
Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock said the Ted Adcock Center was well used and allowed the community to come together during a stressful time.
“I’m impressed it wasn’t just people there charging, but neighbors talking to neighbors,” she said. “The atmosphere was bubbly and there was really a community feeling. That was a real plus.”
The library was also open, though it didn’t have power, offering charging devices and restrooms for residents.
Rarback said sheriff’s deputies were directing traffic on Highway 1 as the traffic signals were out and the city regularly sent out email alerts that were as up-to-date as possible.
Councilwoman Deborah Penrose said the city is establishing a medical reserve corps, an organized group of medical personnel who could step up in the event of an emergency. She also said neighborhoods are starting to work together to develop communication strategies, such as procuring walkie talkies and ham radios.
Ruddock noted many relied on generators during the outages, which of course mitigated the inconvenience but also caused some concern about noise and equity. She said at least one resident with small children had great difficulty sleeping as four noisy generators were humming around their property through the night.
“I’m concerned about the noise and diesel pollution,” she said, noting there are currently no ordinances regulating the use of private generators. “People with resources can buy generators, but many can’t afford them so there’s an inequality if you will in the ability to fend for yourself during an outage.”
Ruddock added the city ought to follow up with the city’s Latino population as well as vulnerable communities such as elderly and disabled residents to see if their needs were met during the outages.
That said, Ruddock felt residents largely handled the frustrating circumstances well.
“I think the community displayed a certain amount of resilience, which was impressive,” she said. “It was a new experience so we’ll learn as we go and retool our processes to be as supportive as possible.”