At the behest of the LA Times, UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies polled thousands of Californians in November about how wildfires and Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s (PG&E) new habit of shutting off power to millions of people have affected them.
The consensus? Nobody is happy. Almost everyone is over the bankrupt SF-based utility. Yet few can agree on what to do about it.
The university conducted the poll via email between November 21 and 26, covering 3,482 California voters, including 840 from the Bay Area (a plurality among the regions surveyed).
The big takeaways include:
- Overall, 19.7 percent of Californians polled say they were “directly affected” by wildfires this year, either by having to evacuate from a fire or by having their power turned off as a preventative measure. Notably, the phrasing of this question means that fewer Southern California respondents reported being affected—Los Angeles County had the most, with 13.8 percent—but in the Bay Area the number leapt up to 29.8 percent, the highest in the state.
- Asked who should have the authority to decide when mass planned power shutoffs occur, only 10.5 percent of people in the Bay Area said that PG&E should get to decide. Another 13.8 percent said the state should make those decisions. By far the most popular option was that both parties should have decide (72.8), with state regulators acting as a second set of decision-makers.
- Asked what to do with PG&E, 10.1 percent of SF respondents said to leave the company as-is. Seven percent support the idea of selling the company to a different utility, while 23 percent said that they like the idea of turning PG&E into a state-run agency. Another 22.9 percent suggested breaking it up into several smaller, county- or city-run utilities. But the plurality of those polled—26.6 percent—admit that they don’t know what should be done—only that they don’t like the status quo.
In the state at large, PG&E fared slightly better compared to public opinion in the Bay Area. For example, 14 percent of people across all of California said that utilities should maintain unilateral authority to shut off power, and 12 percent suggested keeping PG&E as-is once its bankruptcy finishes.
Last week, PG&E announced that it would pay $13.5 billion in damages in what the company calls the “final major settlement” over claims related to fires from 2018, 2017, and 2015.
In all, fire-related liability for the company has run to $25 billion—a tremendous sum, but less than many worst-case scenarios projected for the company in recent months.