Before a crowd of Napa seniors, State Sen. Bill Dodd on Friday tackled such issues as controversial wildfire legislation and small cellular antenna radiation.
Dodd, D-Napa, hosted a senior forum at the Napa Senior Center. As part of the two-hour session, he and panelists took questions from the audience of about 80 people.
“I’m mad at you,” one senior told Dodd, though not in an angry way.
The reason? Dodd sponsored the complicated Senate Bill 901 wildfire package recently signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. Critics said it includes a “bailout” to PG&E that could force customers to help pay for damage by wildfires sparked by downed utility lines last October.
The senior told Dodd of her concern before the forum began and Dodd decided to address the matter in his opening remarks.
“One thing that we found was, if we don’t have a financially stable and healthy investor-owned utility, rates will go through the roof,” Dodd said.
Under Senate Bill 901, PG&E would have to show it’s paying as much as possible for wildfire damages before turning to ratepayers. If the utility is found liable for last October’s Tubbs fire, the cost is estimated at about $5 per year per customer for every $1 billion dollars that PG&E finances to cover damages, he said.
In contrast, PG&E without the bill faced junk bond credit status, Dodd said. The utility would have passed costs associated with this downgrade onto customers, hiking rates $144 per customer per year. Things would be even worse if the utility went bankrupt, he said.
The bill also does such things as require different forest management practices, increases fuel reduction efforts, addresses de-energizing power lines during extreme weather and requires utility grid improvements.
Another senior asked about 5th generation “small cell” transmitters that wireless carriers want to install in residential neighborhoods across the country, including in the city of Napa. Critics such as the Environmental Health Trust say that the antennas might emit harmful radiation.
“This puts the community at risk, but particularly seniors, who are on board for possible Alzheimer’s and dementia,” the senior said, then asked for Dodd’s views on the topic.
Dodd said he’s seen the science and doesn’t believe the antennas cause harm. More magnetic resonance comes out of cell phones that people put up to their ears every single day.
“If you’re worried about these 5G towers, you probably should get rid of your cell phones,” he said. “And I’m not worried about my cell phone.”
He probably just lost a vote, Dodd quipped.
Another senior said she had to wait several hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles for a driver’s license renewal, including two hours outside in the sun.
“Let me apologize to you, because that is unbelievable and unacceptable, under any circumstances whatsoever,” Dodd said. “In this day of age, we should be able to do a better job with this.”
Dodd mentioned having kiosks inside DMV offices so people could do the work quickly themselves, then step up to a line for validation. He noted that Gov. Jerry Brown is asking for an audit of the DMV because of long wait times.
The senior also said she tried to make an appointment with the DMV over the phone. The agency called back one-and-a-half hours later, then cut her off. She tried the computer, but couldn’t navigate the DMV website.
Dodd said people having problems navigating the DMV website can go to his office at Napa County’s South Campus to receive help from his staff.
The panelists at Friday’s forum were Frank Nelson of the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program, county Health Human Services Agency Deputy Director Kris Brown, Bob Twomey of the Contractors State License Board and Yvonne Baginski of Share the Care, Napa Valley.
Editor’s note: This item has been modified to clarify the estimated additional cost per customer should PG&E be found liable for the Tubbs Fire.
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