The Yuba County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday authorized its attorneys to initiate litigation against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company in connection to last year’s Cascade Fire.
In a press release Wednesday, the county said it is being represented by national law firm Baron and Budd and the California Fire Lawyers, who are also representing Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties in connection to what’s being termed as the October 2017 Fire Siege.
CalFire determined the cause of the Cascade Fire – which burned nearly 10,000 acres, destroyed 264 structures and killed four in the Loma Rica and Browns Valley area – was sagging PG&E-owned power lines coming into contact with each other during heavy winds. It said no violations of the Public Resources Code were identified, and the Yuba County District Attorney’s Office said it would not file criminal charges against the utility.
Yuba County said it is facing millions of dollars in costs related to emergency response, recovery efforts, infrastructure damages, injury to natural resources and loss of tax revenue. The litigation will not address losses to private property.
“This lawsuit is intended to seek compensation from those entities responsible for the fires; costs that should not be shouldered by Yuba County, which is still recovering from the devastation,” County Counsel Courtney Abril said in the release. “Legal action is a necessary step to help restore our resilient community.”
Community members are concerned with what this could mean for PG&E ratepayers, though, especially with Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing of Senate Bill 901. The bill comes from concerns that PG&E could be forced into bankruptcy by its legal responsibility for property damage in connection to fires last year, according to media reports. The measure allows the California Public Utilities Commission to split costs between ratepayers and utility shareholders.
“I’m just not real sold that what they’re doing is right, I think they’re looking for a golden goose egg,” Wyatt Howell, a retired firefighter, said in a phone interview Wednesday.
He didn’t lose his home in the Cascade Fire, but pretty much everything else: out buildings, a barn, fencing, equipment, acreage and more than 100 trees.
He said he can understand that the county tax dollars were affected, but questions how much local money was lost in Office of Emergency Services, what county-owned property was damaged and what can be done for natural resources. He said he’s concerned residents are the ones getting the short end of the stick – he’s only received about 20 percent of an estimated $280,000 worth of damage from his insurance company.
“It’s left a real bad taste in my mouth following the fire,” Howell said. “They’re going to use my tax money to file a lawsuit against PG&E and as the little guy I have to fend for myself.”
Laura York agrees. She said her homeowner’s insurance rate rose about $100 to meet her deductible for her $1,000 loss in groceries, dog items, clothing and lost work. She said an attorney told her she didn’t have enough damage to be represented in a lawsuit.
“In the long run, we lost way more and cost way more then (sic) it did to file a claim with the insurance company,” York wrote in a Facebook message Wednesday.
She said she believes Yuba County’s suit against PG&E will hurt residents and ratepayers more in the long run.