AMERICAN CANYON — American Canyon’s planning commission is sorting out what to do with an illegal, temporary staging yard used by a PG&E subcontractor replacing power lines with ones better able to withstand wildfire weather.
The situation has grown complicated. The yard on the northeast edge of town has drawn some neighbor complaints because of traffic involving bucket utility trucks going down narrow Watson Lane, which looks like a country road.
“It went from being a quiet neighborhood to something else,” said Les Lawson, who has owned Watson Lane property for about 40 years.
Joe and Denise Gonsalves allowed Source Power to set up the 32,000-square-foot staging yard on their 360 Watson Lane property early this year.
“The Gonsalves property has been a huge help to us in storing our equipment and well as our power poles so we can rebuild the damaged lines and poles from the devastating fires we had,” said Joel Ashby of Source Power.
Joe and Denise Gonsalves experienced firsthand those October 2017 wildfires that destroyed more than 600 homes in Napa County.
They lost their Monticello Road home to the Atlas fire. Cal Fire later concluded a tree and a tree limb falling into PG&E lines sparked the blaze.
Denise Gonsalves fought back tears while saying the loss of their home to a fire started by PG&E is one reason the family said “yes” to Source Power.
“We are grateful Source Power is repairing and maintaining PG&E poles and lines in Napa County,” Gonsalves said. “Our wish would be that none of you ever have to live through such a devastating event.”
Randy Tomlin on behalf of Source Power said the firm has replaced 30 miles of pole line in the Napa County area with line better able to withstand fire weather conditions.
“Pole line that no matter how hard the wind blows, no matter how many limbs blow into those lines, they will not spark,” Tomlin said.
PG&E will be able to leave these lines energized during fire danger weather. The challenge is PG&E doesn’t have enough of the system rebuilt to where it can leave all of these lines on yet, but that’s the goal, Tomlin said.
But Source Power moved into the Watson Lane site in late February or early March without getting the required use permit from American Canyon. The city found out about the staging yard through a complaint to code enforcement.
“We were desperate,” Tomlin said. “We were looking for a place....I realized it wasn’t planned and we didn’t research it a lot before we got there, but we ended up there.”
American Canyon must decide whether to give Source Power a use permit or give it the boot. The Planning Commission spent several hours tackling the issue on Sept. 26 and on Thursday without reaching a decision.
The commission on Thursday asked Source Power to provide its PG&E and lease agreements and to post a to-be-determined performance bond. It also wants Source Power to do an environmental evaluation to determine what mitigation measures might be needed for traffic and other issues.
Source Power is asking to operate the Watson Lane staging yard from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. It wants to be able to have the staging yard through December 2020, with the ability to request an extension.
Tomlin said PG&E since bankruptcy has issued small contracts, such as for half-mile power line rebuilds. The Watson Lane staging yard lease is open-ended so Source Power can terminate it within 30 days if no more small contracts materialize.
PG&E in 2020 could offer contracts for larger rebuilds, such as for 50 miles or 100 miles of line, Tomlin said. That would give Source Power more latitude to find a larger, more suitable staging yard site elsewhere with a lease of $30,000 to $40,000 a month.
“If you tell me I have to vacate, I do have facilities a long way away I could move all the equipment to,” Tomlin said. “But I don’t know if I would be able to continue to work. It’s something where I have to lease something close to the work to be able to locate (the crews).”
PG&E hasn’t been a lot of help because it can’t lease staging yard sites, being in bankruptcy, he said.
The Watson Lane yard has three crews of four people apiece based there, Tomlin said. Each crew uses a single bucket truck, a double bucket truck and a boom truck for digging and setting poles.
American Canyon received the code complaint and learned about the temporary yard on March 14. That led to city officials working with the Gonsalves and Source Power on a use permit application.
Community Development Director Brent Cooper told the Planning Commission on Sept. 26 that nothing arose that seemed to make the matter urgent. Planning staff recommended approval.
“In this particular case, there was nothing that was compelling that required the city to enforce its police power to stop the activity pending a Planning Commission meeting,” Cooper said.
Commission Chair Andrew Goff said he found it hard to believe a contractor such as Source Power didn’t know about use permits. He also noted the original use permit request was for operations from Monday through Friday. Yet Source Power officials later said some weekend work is necessary.
The Sept. 26 meeting ended with the Planning Commission asking Source Power to clarify its business description and to do more outreach with neighbors.
American Canyon planning staff for Thursday’s meeting recommended denying the permit. It did so based on the expansion of hours and a conclusion that more neighborhood outreach should have been done by the time the staff report was written.
Planning Commissioner Tammy Wong said she drove on Watson Lane at about 11 a.m. Thursday. A big truck approached and she thought it necessary to pull into a driveway to let it pass.
“It does seem the residents have expressed very valid concerns about this activity changing the character of their neighborhood,” Wong said.
Joe Gonsalves told commissioners he doesn’t want Watson Lane neighbors to think badly of him for allowing the utility staging yard. He said he’s known the Lawson family for 40 years.
“This is the last thing my wife and I wanted after everything we’ve been through, is to create this type of situation in our new home,” he said.