Tens of thousands of Californians may be forced to spend the next few days without power while dry, powerful winds slam the northern part of the state.

PG&E said Tuesday it will likely cut power to about 54,000 customers in portions of 24 counties through Friday while much of Northern California remains under a red-flag warning of extreme fire danger. This would mark the third time the utility has shut off power amid a record-breaking fire season that has already seen more than 4.1 million acres burned. Still, PG&E appears to have improved its shutoff process since last October, when millions of Californians lost power for days and some saw hundreds of dollars of food spoil in their fridges.

Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom tentatively praised PG&E for improved communication and more targeted shutoffs. The utility said Tuesday it was deploying temporary microgrids and generators to provide power to 12,000 customers who would have otherwise lost it.

  • Calistoga City Manager Mike Kirn: “It’s very positive, otherwise we’d be 100% out of power. We’re encouraged by the efforts that PG&E has put forward, and hopefully this (shutoff) will be much smoother than the last one.”

Still, the utility has a tough road ahead. Cal Fire is currently investigating whether PG&E equipment may have sparked the deadly Zogg Fire in Shasta County, and the utility just recently emerged from bankruptcy incurred by billions of dollars in wildfire-related liability costs.

Statewide, temperatures are expected to reach 10 to 20 degrees above normal for the rest of the week, marking yet another mini heat wave after the Golden State slogged through its warmest April-to-September period in 126 years.

The heat, combined with winds of up to 60 miles per hour and low humidity, could exacerbate fires raging throughout the state — though firefighters have mostly contained many of the blazes. About 11,500 firefighters are currently on the front lines, down from a peak of more than 19,000 in September.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Tuesday night, California had 852,406 confirmed coronavirus cases and 16,581 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

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$52 million from Uber. $67 million from dialysis clinic chain DaVita. See how the campaign cash behind California’s ballot measures stacks up.


Other stories you should know

1. State power grid loses two top executives

The control room of the California Independent System Operator. Photo by Renée C. Byer, Sacramento Bee

Two top executives responsible for running the state’s power grid will retire this year, the California Independent System Operator announced Tuesday. The news of Vice President of Technology Petar Ristanovic and Vice President of Operations Eric Schmitt’s departures comes less than two months after the state’s first rolling blackouts in nearly two decades, though ISO said both men had been “contemplating retiring for some time.” The independent operator also announced the creation of a new Chief Operating Officer position to help lead the grid’s transition to 100% clean energy. Mark Rothleder, currently ISO’s vice president of market policy and performance, will step into that role.

A recent investigation into the rolling blackouts’ cause suggests he has his work cut out for him. The findings — which were released last week — raise serious questions about the ability of California’s power grid to meet ambitious environmental goals in the timeline delineated by state officials.

2. Trick-or-treating strongly discouraged, state says

Photo via iStock

Californians should skip trick-or-treating this Halloween to prevent household mixing amid the pandemic, the state’s top health official, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said Tuesday. The state Department of Public Health unveiled a list of alternative activities for Halloween and Día de los Muertos, including online costume contests, indoor candy scavenger hunts and virtual altars. The news comes a few days after the state released holiday guidelines that restrict gatherings to three families outdoors. Still, the overall coronavirus picture appears to be improving in California: 11 counties moved into less restrictive reopening tiers Tuesday, and none moved backward. Meanwhile, the state’s 14-day positivity rate has fallen to an all-time low of 2.6%. Intensive-care admissions are also at an all-time low and hospitalizations are at a level not seen since early April, CalMatters’ tracker shows.

Meanwhile, Newsom said Monday he was sending a team to Florida to evaluate Disney World’s reopening and to California theme parks to assess their safety measures. The move appeared to smooth over relations with Disneyland, which partially blamed California’s strict reopening rules for forcing 28,000 layoffs.

3. Kidney dialysis on ballot — again

A DaVita dialysis center in Berkeley on Sept. 13, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

The vast majority of Californians have never set foot in a kidney dialysis clinic, and many have no idea how they operate. Yet for the second time in two years, voters are being asked to decide how these highly specialized clinics should function — and the stakes are high, with the campaigns for and against Prop. 23 framing it as a life-or-death issue. CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra breaks down what voters need to know about the proposition — including the fact that it’s the second-most expensive on California’s November ballot. Dialysis companies have funneled more than $100 million into a campaign to defeat the measure, while the health-care workers’ union supporting the measure has raised just over $6 million.


Upcoming events

CalMatters is hosting “Props to You” events — virtual Q&As for you to ask all of your burning questions about the 12 propositions on California’s November ballot. Check out video recordings of past Props to You events here.

Oct. 21, 5-6:30pm: Rebuilding and Resiliency: How We Need to Handle Wildfires From Now On. In this two-part virtual event, CalMatters examines California wildfires through the lens of Rebuilding Paradise, a new documentary from Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard. Register | Submit Your Questions

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: One of Newsom’s recent vetoes will allow school districts to continue diverting funds intended for underachieving students.

Vote no on Prop. 16: It would allow racial and gender preferences to go so far as to be indistinguishable from quotas, argues Rick Sander, an economist and UCLA law professor.

Vote yes on Prop. 16: It would give us the tools to fight racial and gender discrimination without implementing quotas, argues Jodi Hicks, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.

Other things worth your time

Newsom advisers release recommendations for changes in policing at California protests. // San Francisco Chronicle

Should felons keep their California pensions? This court case could give a new answer. // Sacramento Bee

California has a reputation for progressive politics. The state’s progressives disagree. // NBC News

Teachers unions in three large Sacramento districts want schools closed until at least January. // Sacramento Bee

California’s coronavirus equity metric aims to protect vulnerable communities. But will small businesses suffer? // San Francisco Chronicle

Uber, Lyft seek to stave off AB 5 at appeals court. // San Francisco Chronicle

Los Angeles County to pay $14 million over unlawful immigration holds. // Los Angeles Times

San Francisco birds have changed the way they sing during the shutdown. // SF Gate

See you tomorrow.

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Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

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Emily Hoeven wrote the daily WhatMatters newsletter for three years at CalMatters . Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco...