The old saying, “what goes around, comes around,” should be the new county motto. That is, our county board of supervisors has done virtually nothing to prevent forest fires by way of reducing fuel loads or creating adequate buffers between the urban and wildland interface. Moreover, they have not maximized the ability of our streams, creeks and culverts to convey storm flows. Neither have they built large enough basins to capture debris flows. Nevertheless, the county has jumped on the bandwagon to sue utilities for their culpability as it pertains to wildfires and the debris flow.
Adding insult to injury, the supervisors and other local entities, including the cities of Goleta and Santa Barbara, have helped to put our state utilities in a bind financially by destroying their franchise model and vertical integration as it pertains to power generation and delivery services. This has resulted in a new business model whereby our state’s major utilities will no longer be power generators as much as they will simply deliver power.
Well, because the state doesn’t allow clear cutting vegetation that can trigger a fire when it comes into contact with power lines, the utilities have determined they have no choice but to shut off power when red flag conditions manifest. This has left our communities and our residents vulnerable to hardship and potentially deadly situations.
In light of all of the above, what do County Supervisors Joan Hartman, Greg Hart and Das Williams do? They lawyer up. The following two paragraphs, which were part of the supervisors agenda on Oct. 15, are direct quotes pertaining to the untenable position the county board of supervisors find themselves in:
“The Board of Supervisors received presentations from County staff, Pacific Gas & Electric (“PG&E”), and Southern California Edison (“SCE”) regarding electric power line de-energization events, also referred to as “Public Safety Power Shutoffs.” The Board expressed concerns about PG&E and SCE meeting their responsibilities for adequate notifications and mitigation measures during electric power line de-energization events as they plan to seek regulations to deal with the same.
The Board also executed subsequent agreements for professional services between the County of Santa Barbara and the Meyers/Nave law firm for up to $1.5 million. “The primary purpose of the contract is for Meyers/Nave to provide needed legal advice and representation in defending against tort and real property claims and litigation arising from the Thomas Fire and resulting debris flow. A major part of that litigation is an attempt by Southern California Edison to shift billions of dollars of SCE’s potential liability to the County, the Flood Control and Water Conservation District, and other public entities.”
What does all this mean? The county wants to hold the utilities accountable, by way of lawsuits and regulations, when they keep the power on and when they turn the power off! Meanwhile, these politicians are doing everything within their power to escape their own culpability and liability arising from fires, debris flows and the subsequent power shutoff scenarios.
Meanwhile, on the same Oct. 15 agenda, Supervisor Hartman proposed a resolution to ensure oil operations cannot be initiated in the Los Padres Forest. Yet, if such operations were to occur, it would necessitate the construction of roads that serve as fuel breaks and access for firefighters into the forest.
While the three South County supervisors were pontificating against the use of petroleum products in their echo chamber, outside on the asphalt (asphalt is made from oil you know!) parking lot, county employees were participating in a health benefits fair which included munchies and massages. Ironically, the health fair was powered by a gasoline generator that was belching out fumes galore.