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Bay Area Restaurants Are Struggling to Stay Afloat During PG&E’s Shutoffs

The power outages are costing restaurants thousands in food waste and lost wages

Smoke rises from a hillside beneath PG&E transmission lines
Smoke rises from a hillside beneath PG&E transmission lines as Cal Fire crews battled the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. 
Philip Pacheco/AFP-Getty Images

Over half a million Northern Californians are likely to lose power today, as Pacific Gas & Electric has for the fourth time this month announced that it is cutting electricity to lines in an effort to reduce the chances of wildfires in the district. These outages have been hard on businesses in areas with and without power, as restaurants in the lights-out zones struggle with thousands of dollars in lost revenue and product while venues in spots with electrical service face unexpected, sometimes difficult-to-manage crowds.

According to PG&E, about 596,000 customers across 29 counties will have service shut off today, with outages beginning as early as 7 a.m. in some parts of the North Bay. (Here’s PG&E’s address-searchable shutdown map.)

Unlike a usual power outage scenario, with these intentional shutdowns, it can take as long as 48 hours to restore electricity to an area. That means that if a venue loses power today, it might not get it back for several days. This issue could doom businesses like Oakland’s Perle Wine Bar, owner Rob Lam tells ABC 7. The outages this past weekend cost his business about $40,000, between food spoilage, unexpected costs like a generator rental, and the wages he’s continuing to pay to his staff of 20, even though Perle is closed during the outage. “The real concern is my staff, I mean going five days,” Lam says. “These are real hard-working people. They gotta pay rent coming up.”

Then there’s the inability of some restaurants — even those that still have power — to communicate with the outside world, as internet and cell service is down in many spots across the Bay Area. As PG&E has also cut power to cell phone towers, venues that rely on mobile carriers such as Square to process payments or contact delivery services are scrambling to find workarounds. In Marin County, for example, half of the region’s 280 cell towers were out of service, The New York Times reports, a lack of service that makes calls or texting impossible for many venues.

Those who can escape the darkened regions are heading to places like San Francisco, where the lights remain on. KPIX reports that bars and restaurants in areas like the Marina and Cow Hollow say that they’ve seen increased traffic from residents of Marin County and other impacted areas, leading to longer wait times and packed dining rooms.

Meanwhile, evacuees of areas threatened by the Kincade Fire are also heading to San Francisco, with many booking hotel rooms at reduced rates offered to those fleeing the fire. According to San Francisco Hotel Council Executive Director Kevin Carroll, “hotels are really trying to help out” those displaced by the blaze, with many “giving discounted fees to evacuees.”

For those who can’t swing shelters, a temporary shelter at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption (1111 Gough Street) opened Monday, stocked with beds supplied by SF’s Human Services Agency. Food for those folks will be provided — free of charge — by the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, Meals on Wheels, and vendors from Off The Grid, “People will come as they become aware of the shelter,” spokesperson Francis Zamora told the SF Examiner. “We want people to know that we’re here and we’re available.”

  • When and where to expect PG&E outages in the Bay Area Tuesday [Curbed SF]
  • How to Help Kincade Fire Victims and Evacuees [Sonoma Mag]