NEVADA CITY, Calif, March 12, 2023 – After two weeks of widespread power outages, PG&E set up a mobile command van in the parking lot of the Rood Center today. The investor-owned utility was handing out $200 Visa cards – on a first-come, first-serve basis. Residents waiting in line in the pouring rain quickly found out that only a limited number of cards were available and many left empty-handed.

The outreach effort was not widely publicized, PG&E did not reach out to local media but contacted customers via phone. Thousands of residents are still out of connectivity and have limited or no cell service, and PG&E was aware they did not connect with everyone. “This is on top of everything else we’re doing,” said a PG&E spokesperson on site. “We will conduct a review and issue rebates to all customers affected based on the duration of the outage.”

Residents in line were asked to fill out a form with their service address, asking them to acknowledge they received the gift card. The number of people waiting by far exceeded the available cards and social media postings spread the information – too late for most.

Nevada County residents waiting in the rain for a gift card from PG&E
Nevada County residents waiting in the rain for a gift card from PG&E. Photo by Lisa C. Lillie

“Word spread fast! Folks braving the deluge of rain to get their 200$ gift certificate from PG&E,” said Lisa C. Lillie.

PGE Mobile command van
PGE Mobile command van. Photo by Daniela Fernandez

Nevada City Vice Mayor Daniela Fernandez only heard about the distribution today, via a friend. “I was surprised (and skeptical) to hear from a friend via text this morning that PG&E were distributing gift cards at the Rood Center. I drove over there and found a PG&E van, a few representatives, and a decent sized line of people standing in the rain. I started talking to folks in line to see if I could better understand the situation- not a single person knew any specifics, only that they had heard something or other about ‘“’gift cards’”’. Once I confirmed that they were giving out $200 Visa gift cards, I posted it on my Instagram story and personally reached out to some folks that I know who are struggling.”

Fernandez goes on to say, “Fifteen minutes later I was getting messages that they had already shut the line down due to ‘limited supply.’ I’ve been receiving messages from community members since then about how angry and disappointed people are. I support these grievances – residents are still without power 14 days in, people and businesses are struggling after this series of storms. Loss of power in many cases means loss of work, food, business, access to necessary medical equipment. $200 gift cards to a small select group of people on a first come basis is not what Nevada City needs right now. What we need is reliable infrastructure and a power company we can count on, we need fire wood, and a break on our bills if you can’t deliver service. We see and appreciate the hard work of the line crews, many of whom are our neighbors. They are the heroes we applaud. The continued lack of planning by corporate executives stands in stark contrast. These storms are not going anywhere and neither are we, which is why we need sustainable solutions now. As Vice Mayor of Nevada City, I implore PG&E to work with us at the City to explore and implement these solutions immediately.”  

Nevada City Councilmember Adam Kline shared the photo below with us and added, “I know the folks who were in line in time appreciate the gesture, whether they lost power for a week or more, or if they had groceries spoil, or if they were unable to work because of a lack of power, but I would’ve preferred to see PG&E credit the accounts of households and businesses who were most affected directly, rather than rely on word of mouth for this one first-come, first-serve, limited-supply event on a rainy Sunday. In the long term, while I’m thankful for PG&E’s hardworking crews who are doing their best under challenging circumstances, I’d love to see the executives at the company stop treating their infrastructure in our area as an afterthought, so we don’t see these kinds of lengthy outages again.”

A long line for the PG&E gift card distribution.
A long line for the PG&E gift card distribution. Photo Adam Kline.

According to several readers who contacted us today, they learned about the distribution from neighbors who had working connectivity and answered a call that didn’t come from the regular PG&E phone number. No voicemails were left if the person did not pick up, according to readers.

Kari Stehmeyer, a Banner Mountain resident, did not hear about the event until it was too late. “I’m not sure where the breakdown of communication was. Perhaps the decision by PG&E to provide vouchers came too late in order for it to be an effective outreach to connect with super helpful and timely county food waste disposal event. But I do not see why there couldn’t be an immediate credit to every impacted household account covered under the Emergency Order. There seems to be the belief that those of us on Banner Mountain are at the same state of recovery as the rest of the county, but I can’t even begin to assess the damages at my house, because I still have feet upon feet of snow blocking access to a complete perimeter of my home and property.”

At publication time, 1,618 customers are without power, down from 17,060 on Feb. 28, 2023.