‘Their house is still there,’ PG&E chief says of those struggling after blackouts

Comments by the head of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. seeming to suggest customers hit by blackouts can be grateful “their house is still there” are sparking outrage, KGO reports.

The private utility imposed blackouts on hundreds of thousands of customers across California in October to curtail the threat of wildfires sparked by downed power lines during extreme winds, The Sacramento Bee reported.

On Thursday, a KGO reporter asked PG&E CEO Bill Johnson about people who are still struggling to replace food spoiled during the blackouts.

“These events can be hard on people, really hard on people, particularly people who have struggles anyways, and there are community-based things you can do, food banks, these kind of things,” Johnson replied, according to the station.

“But for us, you know the main thing is we didn’t cause any fires, we didn’t, for these people we didn’t burn down any houses, the Kincade fire is still under investigation, I got that, but one of the things we did was give them the opportunity to actually refill their refrigerator ’cause their house is still there,” Johnson continued, KGO reported.

His comments sparked outrage from both residents and state leaders.

“To think that we should be grateful that PG&E because of their negligence and their mismanagement didn’t burn our house down,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, KGO reported. “That’s the most outrageous, insensitive, tone deaf thing I’ve ever heard.”

“This is the most out of touch and outrageous statement by PG&E’s CEO,” wrote state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, on Twitter.

“Californians should be appreciative that you didn’t burn down their homes (this time)!?!” McGuire continued. “Total BS. You’re a broken corporation who — for decades — have put your shareholders before the safety of your customers.”

“Telling people who are struggling that they should be grateful PG&E didn’t burn down their homes is pretty gross,” wrote state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, on Twitter, touting a bill that would require PG&E to compensate customers for blackout losses.

“This tells you everything you need to know about the narcissistic leadership of PG&E,” wrote one person on Twitter.

“Apparently this guy has no communications training whatsoever,” another Twitter post reads. “Our poorly maintained equipment had to be shut off because we spent that money elsewhere, so be glad that you have a house, and too bad for no power, no work and no food.”

The utility has filed for bankruptcy and faces billions in damages after investigations found its lines sparked several disastrous wildfires in 2017 and 2018, including the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise, The Sacramento Bee reported.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has suggested the state may try to take over PG&E if it doesn’t act quickly to resolve its problems, according to the publication.

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Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.