City Council, Girl Scouts prepare Arcata for power shutdowns

COUNCIL & SCOUTS Girl Scout Troop 90039 at the City Council meeting. Photo by Kelly Drew | Troop 90039

Collin Slavey
Mad River Union

ARCATA – Following two Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) and at Mayor Brett Watson’s urging, the Arcata City Council held a special meeting last week to discuss what went well, what went wrong, and how to prepare for future responses to crises like a PSPS. 

Public attendance at the meeting was relatively low, save for the junior scouts of Girl Scout Troop 90039. The troop was there as part of their “Get Moving Journey,” wherein they learn all about energy and power. 

“It’s good to learn because learning equals new stuff.” observed Scout Isabella Lampro, “New stuff means we don’t make the same mistakes.”

Key players in the City Council's Public Safety Power Shutoff review.

In a review of the power shutdown events, City Manager Karen Diemer gave a summary report on lessons from the community, costs incurred by the city, necessary planning for future events and economic losses to local businesses.

“What worked well for us,” Diemer said, “was our utility crews know our systems well and they operated very smoothly, police were extremely proactive at both events with the assisted community as well as to deter opportunity crimes… Arcata House Partnership really stepped up, our communications stayed really steady, our CodeRED System worked really well… there were a lot of people in the community that expressed a  lot of appreciation for being able to jump on our website and get regular updates.”

To prepare for crises extending beyond PSPSs, the City Council discussed intentions to apply for a state grant in pursuit of additional diesel generators, to use the D Street Neighborhood Center as a Community Resource Center, and to engage community members in a number of ways. 

“People in communities will be playing a bigger role in future response,” City Councilmember Sofia Pereira said, “This was a wake-up call about preparedness.”

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The city applied for a state grant requesting proposals for resources to relieve the pressure of future PSPSs. Diemer said the city applied for a total of $281,000 for grant funding. The city intends to buy two 20 kW generators, a large 70 kW generator and a 2000 gallon above ground diesel tank.  

The council acknowledged that the city needs to work with volunteers in crisis events. There is going to be a plan to organize volunteers to help out with the Community Resource Center next time. The city spent 500 hours of staff time during the PSPS but hopes to reduce those costs with use of volunteers.  

“I really can’t send a loud enough shout-out to Arcata House Partnership for setting up to provide food, breakfast, lunch and dinner service for both events… based on just donations.” Diemer said, “In truth, our partnership with Arcata House Partnership coming to supply food really is what made the CRC successful in Arcata.”

The city intends to continue to work with the Arcata House Partnership and solidify other partnerships valuable in a crisis, including CERT, Redwood Coast Energy Authority, Red Cross and Humboldt County Senior Resources Center. 

To quantify commercial losses, Humboldt County sent out a survey to business owners. There have been few respondents to the survey and there is no concrete number for the amount of revenue lost during the two PSPSs. Assumptions are that losses were significant, although there were a number of businesses which used generators to continue operating. 

The generator at Big Blue Cafe started a fire during the second PSPS. Significant damages to buildings on G street could have been worse, but the impact is still felt on the Plaza. To prevent accidents like this in the future, the City Council is going to work on a program to educate the community on safe generator practices. 

Generators impact the city’s noise ordinance and the increase  carbon emissions, but when asked whether it was necessary or appropriate to enforce regulations, the council recognized people will use generators and it would be better to reduce use and teach people how to use them safely. 

“I agree we need more education.” Pereira said, “The fire department is a good ally on teaching people about generators. It would be hard to enforce in an emergency situation if law enforcement couldn’t respond. We should be looking at it from a harm reduction perspective.”

The City Council encourages community members to sign up for the City’s CodeRED program. Arcata’s emergency notification system to keep citizens informed of evacuation notices, utility outages, water main breaks, fires, floods, chemical spills and other emergencies.

Troop Leader Sohshanna Rose and her scouts. Photo by Kelly Drew | Troop 90039

Girl Scouts Listen and learn 

Girl Scout 90093 attended the meeting to get some advice on their Take Action project.

“They’re really excited to hear ideas and comments tonight to get ideas about a project in the community that they can do.” Troop Journey Leader Shoshanna Rose said, “It’s fun to see them thinking about these big issues and ideas.”

Councilmember Susan Ornelas offered a project proposal for the troop. She said that a poster of where electricity comes from and where it begins to where it goes would be useful, and if it was created could be hung up in City Hall. “For so many people, electricity is invisible,” Ornelas said, “People don’t really get it. I think we could put up a poster in City Hall.”

The troop took advantage of this opportunity to learn and diligently scribbled down notes. As the City Council talked about the Public Safety Power Shutoffs, the Girl Scouts were coming up with their own ideas about how to prepare for next time.

Girl Scouts monitor the City Council's deliberations. Photo by Kelly Drew | Troop 90039

“Take action,” was one suggestion. “Help others prepare. Build a project using batteries. Have some way for elders to get warmth. Provide blankets. Raise money for local business. Do a project using solar. Turn off your generator at night. Manage your energy use.”

Both the council and the scouts had something to learn from the special meeting. Their Get Moving journey is founded on learning, and it is clear the junior Girl Scouts value the chance to learn. 

Betty Miles said, “Try to memorize things so you don’t mess up over and over again.”

Xochi Solis said, “Learning means you can pass on knowledge, and it will be fun without it being math.”

“If we learn, we have the knowledge to pass on to the next generation, and also so we know stuff,” said Elora Wanden. 

“Learn stuff” said India Croy, “because if you don’t learn, you can’t take care of yourself.”