Add city governments to the list of customers that incurred unexpected costs during the recent planned power outages imposed by Pacific Gas & Electric.
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.
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.
Police officers were re-assigned to staff intersections in the area affected by the shut-offs, Torres told the San Leandro City Council last week. 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 crisscross 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,” City Manager Jeff Kay said. “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 that they may 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. San Leandro councilmembers piled on at last week’s meeting, reacting coolly to paying $15,0000 in overtime to police officers. “I think we need to talk to PG&E and send the bill to them,” Councilmember Victor Aguilar, Jr.
Other East Bay cities are likely to have incurred their own unbudgeted expenses during the power outages.
Former Coliseum official charged with felony
When the board that oversees operations of the Oakland Coliseum complex was pursuing RingCentral about becoming the stadium’s new naming rights partner, Joint Powers Authority Executive Director Scott McKibben illegally asked the company’s representatives for a $50,000 fee to negotiate a deal, prosecutors charged.
McKibben, a former East Bay newspaper executive, resigned from the authority last August amid an investigation by the agency’s board and the Alameda County District Attorney’s office.
An inspector for the DA’s office alleges that McKibben committed felony conflict of interest. State law bars public officials from negotiating a public contract when they have a vested interest in the outcome. McKibben also is charged with a misdemeanor for using his position to influence a decision that would financially enrich him.
The authority’s board, which includes elected officials from the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, Oakland City Council, and their appointees, was not aware of McKibben’s alleged actions, the inspector concluded.
McKibben sent three invoices to the Belmont-based cloud communications provider following the board’s May approval of the naming-rights contract. McKibben told the inspector that he sought the $50,000 fee, but was acting as a consultant for RingCentral, outside his role as the authority’s executive director. RingCentral never paid the fee upon learning of McKibben’s alleged wrongdoing.
The stadium has since been rechristened as the RingCentral Coliseum, but the authority is seeking to renegotiate the deal.
According to the East Bay Times, McKibben also received NBA Finals tickets and charged them to the authority. He also failed to explain why the son of former state Sen. Don Perata received a $25,000 check from the agency.
Alameda to deny repayment of legal fees for violators
In the wake of the release of an infamous secret recording involving alleged impropriety by two elected officials, the Alameda City Council approved an ordinance last week that would deny the reimbursement of legal fees to councilmembers after they are found to have violated the city’s charter.
“I hope this is a rare occurrence, but we don’t know that,” Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Aschraft said. “I think that it’s really important to have clear policies that leave no question.”
After former City Manager Jill Keimach accused Councilmembers Jim Oddie and Malia Vella of violating a provision in the city charter than forbids political interference in the city manager’s duties, the accusation led both officials racking up legal bills totaling roughly $90,000 apiece. The City Council denied both claims.
An Alameda County Grand Jury report issued last June concluded that Oddie and Vella violated the charter by their actions in pressuring Keimach to hire a specific candidate for the open fire chief position. Among the grand jury’s recommendations was for the council to enact a policy against indemnifying councilmembers who violate the charter.
Last week’s discussion aimed to specify who would make such a determination about a councilmember’s alleged transgressions. The council ultimately chose to use any future investigation by the state attorney general, Alameda County district attorney, or civil grand jury as a guide. The majority of the council could also weigh-in, but only after appointing a special counsel.
Members of Alameda’s boards and commissions are not included in the ordinance. But, notably, the city auditor and city treasurer were not included in the resolution. “It means those two people are not going to be held to same standard and they will be indemnified even if they violate the charter,” Vella complained following the meeting.
In Other News …
Oakland’s Harborside has long wrangled with the federal government. Now after a judge ruled last October that it must pay $11 million in back taxes from 2007 to 2012, the dispensary, one of the largest in the country, indicated that it will appeal the decision, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. … The family of Dujuan Armstrong, who suffocated to death in Santa Rita Jail last year, is suing the Alameda Sheriff’s Office and the deputies who restrained him, the Chronicle reported. …
Oakland officials are proposing a pilot program to prohibit overnight camping in parks, the Chron reported. The item was heard in an Oakland City Council committee on Tuesday. The city already has a similar ban on its books, but it’s typically not enforced by the Public Works Department because of staff limitations. … A new rule from the Trump Administration will strip food stamps from up to 3.7 million Americans, including 625,700 in California, Calmatters reported. The move is intended to encourage “able-bodied” recipients toward self-sufficiency, but is forcefully opposed by Democrats, and some Republicans. … A rent control ballot initiative may once again come before California voters next year, the Sacramento Bee reported. The same group placed a rent control initiative on the ballot in November 2018, but it was defeated. … Bay Area home prices are dipping, but limited supply is still keeping prices high, the Mercury News reported. A “modest correction,” though, could be on the horizon in 2020. …
PG&E announced a tentative agreement Friday to pay victims of several wildfires caused by the utility’s equipment, including the Camp Fire that nearly erased Paradise off the map, in addition to the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, the Associated Press reported. The deal, which includes $13.5 billion to settle claims from the fires, is likely to quicken the pace of PG&E’s bankruptcy. … Two PG&E power shut-offs last month in San Leandro, cost the city $15,000 in overtime for its police department, the Times reported. The shut-offs were primarily located in the city’s hilly eastside. …
Sen. Bernie Sanders is the new front runner in California’s March presidential primary, according to a new poll, SFGate reported. Sanders received support from 24 percent of respondents, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 22 percent. But Warren’s support dropped seven points from polling in September. Joe Biden registered 14 percent, followed by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 12 percent. … The post-mortem of Sen. Kamala Harris’ presidential hopes is providing more insights into a campaign in disarray. Politico reported that Harris had approved the removal of her campaign manager just prior to ending her bid for the Democratic nomination. …
Cal is going to a bowl game for a second consecutive year and they won’t have to travel far to get there. Cal (7-5) accepted an invitation to play in the Redbox Bowl against Illinois (6-6). The game is scheduled for Dec. 30 at Levi’s Stadium. … Former Oakland Raider George Atkinson III, whose father of the same name was a team legend, died Tuesday, Yahoo Sports reported. Atkinson III, who played for the Raiders for two seasons, battled depression following his twin brother’s suicide in January. … The Oakland Roots’ success at the turnstiles did not necessarily translate to the field during its inaugural season. In advance of spring season, the team elevated assistant coach Jordan Ferrell to head coach, SFGate reported. … D’Munda, the Oakland Zoo’s 50-year-old African elephant died unexpectedly, SFGate reported. She lived at the zoo for 26 years.