Redwood Valley residents "very disappointed" in PG&E allocation
September 9, 2021 — The PG&E settlement funds from the fires that devastated Redwood and Potter Valleys have been allocated, and some in Redwood Valley are disappointed at the amount that went back into the community that was most affected. At last night’s Redwood Valley Municipal Advisory Council meeting, Deputy CEO Darcie Antle explained that some of the items requested by the community can be funded by another source. And a plan to use another portion of the money to haul water from Ukiah to Fort Bragg is not as solid as it sounds.
Nevertheless, Antle tried to reassure community members that if any of the settlement money is used for that plan, the intent is to restore it, using tax dollars generated by coastal businesses.
But MAC member Sattie Clark emphasized a belief shared by many in the community.
“We consider a lot of the allocations to be inappropriate,” she said. “Because we were not incorporated...you got all of that money. And it was to repair Redwood Valley and mitigate the damages caused by the wildfire, in our opinion. And so I want to make it clear that a lot of us don’t have a problem with the four hundred some thousand dollars for Building and Planning. We have a problem with pretty much the whole thing.” Community services like the water and fire departments did get some money, but Clark said Redwood Valley only got 16% of the allocation from the settlement funds. “It’s as if nobody at the county, the CEO, county counsel, nobody read our letter,” she concluded. “I have to say, we’re very disappointed.”
Three million dollars of the $22 million settlement fund was set aside to be used for immediate disaster spending. On August 24, the Board of Supervisors authorized half of that money for the water hauling program, which would benefit businesses that are literally drying up as wells fail. Chair Dolly Riley expressed her thoughts.
“A better expenditure would have been to look at the agricultural water for Redwood Valley, which has totally ceased,” she opined. “People’s vineyards are dying, and the fact that people on Redwood Valley municipal water only get 55 gallons (per person, per day). We get a couple flushes and a shower and some cooking, and that’s it. And here we have people on the coast who are coming as tourists, and they can just go through the water.”
Antle tried to provide some reassurance, saying that the plan is for the settlement funds to be paid back with transient occupancy tax, or bed tax, from businesses on the coast. “Because 74% of those funds come from the coast,” she said. “So right now, in order to enter into contracts and move things forward, the only cash we had was in the PG&E” settlement fund.
Elizabeth Salomone, the General Manager of the Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation District, is a little skeptical about the plan to haul water from Ukiah to the coast.
“The chances of this being pulled off are not great,” she said. Justine Frederickson, of the Ukiah Daily Journal, reported that the water hauling program began Wednesday. Antle said Wednesday night that the county had only found one hauler. On Thursday, the county sent out a request for three more water haulers to participate in the program.
Antle also went through the funds that are being used specifically for Redwood Valley. She said that the Board of Supervisors has approved requests to use money from the American Rescue Plan Act, also called the covid-19 stimulus package, for fire hydrants and cleaning up Mariposa Park. Mendocino County was allotted close to $17 million from that fund, and half of it was awarded early last month, according to the August 17 CEO report.
But Antle reported that immediate funding from the PG&E settlement in Redwood Valley is going toward fire, water, and improvements at the grange, including over $200,000 for the Redwood Valley Water District and $250,000 for HVAC systems, ADA accessibility, and flooring at the grange. Supervisors also approved $150,000 for locks on fire hydrants.
The county Planning and Building Services Department will receive about $413,000 to upgrade its services, though permit fees during the rebuild after the fire were only deferred, not waived. Antle defended that decision, saying county staff spent a lot time mitigating subsequent disasters, especially the over-excavation by Army Corps subcontractors.