Capitol Alert

Spoiled food and missing medicine: How PG&E shutoffs hit a California mobile home park

When Lucille Constantine tried to pick up her prescription medication ahead of a planned blackout in Napa County, she arrived to find her pharmacy closed.

That was a big problem for the 69-year-old, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, so she told Gov. Gavin Newsom he needed to fix the problem when he visited the mobile home park where she lives over the weekend.

He listened and later that day directed the Health and Human Services Agency to ensure the state keeps people informed about where they can pick up their medications during shutoffs. Now, that information is available through a state website.

Newsom returned to the mobile home park Wednesday after power was restored, and Constantine came up to him and thanked him.

“We’ll have to name the law after you!” Newsom told her as they embraced.

“The Lulu law!” she exclaimed. “Well, you know I’m there.”

It was a bright moment during Newsom’s visit to the park in American Canyon, where he promised new protocol to notify people about future blackouts as the state continues to experience high fire danger due to heat and strong winds.

Residents at the park lost power Saturday evening just a few hours after Pacific Gas and Electric Company notified them the utility would shut off electricity as a precaution. Their electricity didn’t come back on until Tuesday.

Sharon Fox, 76, said she lost almost all of the perishable food she had just purchased during a recent trip to Costco, including frozen salmon for herself and corn dogs and sliders she keeps on hand for when her two grandsons visit. She estimated all the food she lost cost hundreds of dollars.

She said her home became surprisingly cold while the power was off, and that she wasn’t able to work on the jigsaw puzzles she likes to do in the evenings because it was so dark.

Tom Mogg, a resident who turns 93 next month, stopped by the event to see the governor and pick up a box of free food from the local food pantry. He said the utility didn’t tell them definitively when the power would go out and when it would come back on, causing unnecessary anxiety.

“Every time the wind blows, we cannot shut down power,” he said. “The uncertainty is a level of stress we shouldn’t have to go through.”

Newsom has been a vocal critic of the blackouts, which he says are necessary to prevent fires but could have been avoided if PG&E had maintained its electrical equipment better over the years. He acknowledged state regulators at the Public Utilities Commission share some of that blame and criticized past regulators for being too close with the utility.

Since taking office, he’s replaced some top administrators at the PUC, including installing Marybel Batjer as president of the commission. Newsom said there’s no longer any closeness between the regulators and the utility.

“I don’t know that there’s a lot of coziness right now between anybody,” he said. “I feel very confident in Marybel... She is not in bed with these guys and, if she is, she’s gone.”

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He pointed to the utility’s decision to issue rebates to residents affected by the shut offs as evidence that despite the tension, his administration is still collaborating with PG&E to address the blackouts.

”We’re finding ways to work together because we have no choice,” he said. “We are locked at the hip.”

The California weather that has prompted mass blackouts and sparked numerous fires is starting to improve, he said, although he warned the danger has not passed.

“I think we’re turning a corner,” Newsom says. He noted that the high winds in Northern California are already subsiding and said conditions are expected to improve in Southern California starting Thursday.

Fox, the woman who lost a whole fridge and freezer full of food during the shut off, said although she was inconvenienced by the blackouts, she’s glad there weren’t any fires sparked in her area.

“We’re alive. Our bodies and homes are safe,” she said, chuckling. “Our souls we’re still working on.”

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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