Power shut-offs also impacted San Leandro with police overtime costs

San Leandro’s response to two power shut-offs by Pacific Gas & Electric last October was suboptimal, but the city ultimately learned from its early mistakes, city officials said. The pair of power shut-offs, which occurred in the northeastern area of San Leandro, came with a price tag to the city of at least $15,000 in overtime for its police officer, said Capt. Luis Torres.

“Our response wasn’t perfect, but the city learned from it,” San Leandro City Manager Jeff Kay said. “Our response will be much better for having gone through this.”

However, missteps by the city and police, were largely due to the unprecedented nature of PG&E’s decision to cut-off power to areas susceptible to wildfires. The power shut-offs on Oct. 9 and Oct. 26 were precipitated by dry and extremely windy conditions forecast at the time.

I think we need to talk to PG&E and send the bill to them.-San Leandro Councilmember Victor Aguilar, Jr. on the city paying $15,000 for overtime costs related to PG&E power shut-offs in the city last October.

PG&E’s website, at one point, crashed, leaving city officials without information on the timing of the first shut-off, Torres told the San Leandro City Council last week. The city was also not initially offered access to PG&E’s web portal that provides public safety with additional information on the shut-offs, he added. Police officers were later re-assigned to staff intersections in the area affected by the shut-offs.

Torres said the police department had concerns over the safety of railroad crossings in the city. In recent years, San Leandro has suffered a number of fatalities on the train tracks that criss-cross the its streets. All told, the shut-off on Oct. 9 lasted roughly 16 hours, while the second event went on for 37 hours, Torres said.

“This thing was a pain. It wasn’t fun for the community. It wasn’t fun for us. A lot of city operations pretty much ground to a halt while we dealt with this for a few days. In retrospect, it was fairly isolated, but we didn’t know that when it first came out.”

Using the experience of the first shut-off as a guide, the city was able to better react to the second event. However, new problems quickly arose. A radio tower went down due to excessive wind on Oct. 26, Torres said, and the back-up also failed, leaving police momentarily without the ability to communicate with each other. Old analog radios were deployed. Downed trees from the heavy winds also become a problem, as was reports someone on the other side of the city was starting fires, further taxing public safety’s resources, he added.

City officials indicated they may seek to purchase a new analog radio system to be used as an emergency backup to its digital radio. The city may also request that PG&E stage a community resource center in San Leandro during future power shut-offs. The closest centers during the October shut-offs were in Oakland, Berkeley, and Hayward.

PG&E’s standing in the public and local government is quite low following a spate of infrastructure problems that resulted in devastating wildfires in recent years, including last year’s Camp Fire that incinerated Paradise, Calif. San Leandro councilmembers used last week’s meeting to pile on, reacting coolly to paying $15,0000 in overtime to police officers in order to cover the utility’s missteps that culminated with the power shut-offs. “I think we need to talk to PG&E and send the bill to them,” Councilmember Victor Aguilar, Jr.