Pacific Gas & Electric will pay Napa County $34 million and the city of Napa $6.3 million for damage caused by the October 2017 wildfires.
That is the result of a $415 million mediated lawsuit settlement involving nine counties and cities announced in June 2019. At the time, however, it was unknown how the money would be divided among the nine jurisdictions.
County Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht called the October 2017 fires a “hit in the gut.” Napa County’s share of $34 million, he said, replenishes money for the next gut punch, which just happens to be here – the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What a great time to receive a settlement like this,” Supervisor Ryan Gregory said.
The lawsuit alleged that PG&E negligence in maintaining electrical infrastructure caused various 2017 wildfires. Napa County, the city of Napa, Clear Lake, Lake County, Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, Yuba County, Mendocino County and Nevada County sued the utility for damages.
A Cal Fire investigation blamed windblown trees and tree limbs falling into PG&E lines for starting the Atlas and Partrick/Nuns fires that destroyed more than 600 homes in Napa County. The agency did not find PG&E at fault for the Tubbs fire that broke out in northern Napa County the same night.
The settlement became part of PG&E’s Chapter 11 reorganization plan and involved only the nine government jurisdictions, not damage claims made by residents and businesses. In June, PG&E announced bankruptcy court had confirmed the settlement.
Last Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors decided how to spend the $34 million. The county plans to put $16 million toward roads.
A Napa County report said a number of roads suffered damage because of the fires, among them Redwood Road, Soda Canyon Road, Dry Creek Road, Mount Veeder Road and Second Avenue. Damage came not only from destroyed guard rails and melted pavement during the fires, but from the heavy equipment used to remove the destroyed homes and other debris.
Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said that the county has a responsibility to invest much of the settlement money in infrastructure, especially in areas damaged by the fires. He represents the 4th District burned by Atlas fire, including the Soda Canyon and Silverado areas.
Board of Supervisors chairperson Diane Dillon reminded her colleagues that a road didn’t have to be burned to sustained fire-related damage.
“In the Upvalley, we took a tremendous amount of debris removal and just months and months of really heavy trucks and all of the road wear,” Dillon said.
The county will allot $9.1 million to make up for revenues lost during the fires. That can go to such things as helping the community recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic downturn, as well as the pension trust and capital projects.
“We just can’t wait for the economy to rebound,” Pedroza said. “We need to make some proactive, intentional investments in how do we stimulate the economy to generate more sales tax, which helps our bottom line ... How do we support those businesses out there that are bleeding to death and trying to keep those employees employed?”
Another $1 million will go to disaster preparedness, which can include such things as the county’s chipping program to encourage rural residents to remove fuels for potential wildfire. Another $7.8 million will be kept to help the county weather fiscal uncertainties.
“When disaster strikes, we have to pivot ... this money compensates us for this pivot we had to make in 2017,” Supervisor Belia Ramos said.
Napa County as of Friday had not released an itemized list of damage amounts it claimed resulted from the 2017 fires. A county report stated the settlement doesn’t reflect all of the losses and, without dollar amounts attached, mentioned fire response, road damage, debris removal, tax losses, environmental damage and housing market impacts.
The fires didn’t burn within the city of Napa, but the city claimed it lost tax revenue as a result. Also, the Atlas fire burned the watershed for the city’s Milliken reservoir and damaged water delivery infrastructure.
The Napa City Council will discuss the $6.3 settlement next Tuesday. A city report proposes putting $4 million into the water fund and $2.3 million into the general fund emergency reserve.
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You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or email@example.com.