From Santa Rosa to Cloverdale, residents persevere without electricity

Doug and Joan Jones, who live in Santa Rosa’s Oakmont community, flipped through a newspaper reading quietly to themselves Wednesday afternoon as they sat in a large white tent in the Santa Rosa Veteran’s Memorial Building parking lot.

Inside the tent, a makeshift community resource center put up by PG&E, the couple recharged the batteries in a portable oxygen device that Doug Jones, 86, uses to help him breathe after undergoing lung surgery in July.

Though the couple has a larger oxygen device in their home, it was useless during the utility’s planned power shut-off, which cut electricity to an estimated 40% of Sonoma County’s 500,000 residents.

In the past few days, the couple had been considering buying a generator and even hired an electrician to help them determine what kind would be best for them, Joan Jones, 81, said. It was too late, however, to avert having their home go dark Wednesday.

“By the time we knew what we wanted to buy, (the stores) were all out,” Doug Jones said. “We’re hoping that PG&E gets their act together and turns the power back on.”

The couple were among the 26,000 Santa Rosa customers - and more than 200,000 people countywide - affected by PG&E’s intentional shut-off, a precautionary tactic to reduce the risk of its power lines sparking a wildfire.

Many area residents took the preemptive measure in stride, while others responded with frustration and anxiety realizing power restoration won’t begin until Thursday afternoon and it could take up to five days to finish the process.

With more than 30,000 county children home from schools because classes were canceled Wednesday, and many campuses opting to remain closed Thursday, parents of younger students were left wondering how to occupy them.

Mireya Sanchez, a pharmacy technician who lives in an apartment complex near Howarth Park, said she was forced to stay home from work because she could not arrange for anyone to watch her children.

Sanchez, whose home was without power, on Wednesday afternoon took her youngest kids and a neighbor’s son to Howarth Park to play.

“They had no school and there’s no electricity, so I had to bring them out a couple of hours. And there’s no internet at home,” she said.

The power shut-off affected a large number of residents on the east side of Santa Rosa, including Rincon Valley. At the Safeway on Calistoga Road and Highway 12, shoppers in search of ice, food and batteries were redirected to the Safeway on Fourth Street.

At the Montecito Center on Montecito Boulevard and Middle Rincon Road, Rod Fernandez, owner of Santa Rosa Pool Service, took the temporary blackout in stride.

Fernandez, who has worked in pool services for 35 years, said his employees still were making service calls to customers’ residences Wednesday. However, the retail shop was closed.

“Our operation is still going on. It’s just the retail that’s out of commission, “ Fernandez said.

He said the power outage would have to last several days to hurt his business financially. The inconvenience is nothing compared to the financial losses he suffered two years ago after the North Bay fires, particularly from the customers whose homes were destroyed in Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood.

“I lost a lot of accounts, about 20% of business,“ he said. “We’ve been recovering from that for two years.”

Next to Fernandez’s shop, business was brisk at the Taqueria Santa Rosa. A generator was powering lights in the kitchen, refrigerator and the range.

A limited menu was offered to the lunch crowd, which included construction workers and other customers owner Lorena Anaya said she hadn’t seen in a while.

“We gotta do what we gotta do to keep our customers happy and not throw away food,“ Anaya said, indicating she was going to be open until 3 p.m. Wednesday.

In Cloverdale, the county’s northernmost city, the partial power outage suited Tim Karis just fine. The southern third of the city, primarily south of Brookside Drive, was dark.

“We had a really busy morning,” said Karis, manager of Plank Coffee in the tidy downtown area. The stylish shop was nearly full at lunch, and Karis figured he was drawing customers from his only competition, a Starbucks at the south end of town closed by PG&E’s blackout.

Two students whose home was without power sat at one end of a long, well-lit table with refreshments at hand.

Rory Kluesener, 18, a senior at Windsor High School who lives in Cloverdale, was working on calculus with a laptop. “I’m doing OK,” he said of the math course. “I got a B-plus and I’m trying to get that A so I’m studying.”

Lydia Barnes, his 15-year-old niece who is home-schooled, was reading “The Iliad,” an ancient Greek poem attributed to Homer, and jotting down answers to questions.

Many of his fellow students, Kluesener said, likely were spending the day off from school at the Russian River.

Michel Arenales and Marisol Hernandez had brunch at a sidewalk table in front of Plank’s coffee shop. Their home lost power around 3 a.m. Wednesday, while Arenales was working late. But they were ready, having received a text message from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. alerting them of the planned outage.

“We prepared ourselves,” Arenales said, citing the flashlights, radio and food in an ice chest they had on hand. “We learned our lesson” in terms of emergency preparation from the 2017 wildfires, he said.

Back at PG&E’s community resource center in Santa Rosa, Barney Krebs, a 61-year-old Bennett Valley resident who works as an independent contractor for a pharmaceutical company, tried to get some work done.

Krebs can work remotely, as long as he has power and Wi-Fi. He had neither Wednesday at home.

While the outage was an inconvenience, it was no comparison to his harrowing experience two years ago when the fires forced him to evacuate his home. Still, he wondered if there was a way for PG&E to avoid turning off power to so many customers as the main part of its fire-prevention strategy.

“I’m understanding, but I wonder if it’s really necessary to shut off suburban areas that don’t seem to be close to an area that might burn,” Krebs said.

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