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Fallen trees contribute to power outage woes on the Monterey Peninsula.

Crushed garage

A garage is seen crushed by a tree in Carmel on Monday, March 13.

Dogs need their walks, regardless of weather. Pam Marino here, recalling how I found myself, during some of the windier times of the last two atmospheric rivers, hurrying my dog along as the trees around us whipped around in what felt like a murderous fashion.

The fact that as of today only two injuries from falling trees have been reported in the county—and no deaths—feels like a miracle, considering what must be hundreds of trees that were falling like stones everywhere in the forest that covers Monterey, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, Carmel, Carmel Valley and elsewhere. 

I took a drive through Holman Highway, Carmel and Highway 1 on Monday morning and saw many very old, very tall Monterey pines and other trees upended as if they were children’s blocks. One tree in Carmel smashed a garage—it looked as if a giant had walked through and stomped his foot down in the center of the garage, nearly flattening it.

If you were sitting in the dark for a long period of time over the weekend—or are one of those who still does not have power—those fallen trees, combined with saturated soils and heavy winds, have a lot to do with your wait. 

I learned about this from Stewart “Stew” Roth, a PG&E senior public safety specialist, who has lived in Monterey for 60 years and started his career as a Monterey firefighter. For many years now he’s worked for PG&E, interacting with the police and fire agencies in Monterey County, as well as the county’s Office of Emergency Services. 

Roth tells me there are several reasons why restoration of service may be delayed. One, for obvious safety reasons, is that if winds are above 30 miles per hour workers cannot go up in a bucket or climb a power pole. If trees are falling all around due to winds and soggy earth in one area, they might hold off until the pole can be assessed for safety. 

Another reason for delays is that in an extreme weather event like the last two we just experienced this week, where there are downed lines all over, crews may have to perform what they call “make safe” calls, where they have to go in ahead of police and fire to de-energize downed lines. In that case, repair work must wait. 

There’s more from Roth in my story in tomorrow’s paper about the recent power outage woes. I also talked to the city managers of Carmel, Monterey and Pacific Grove who are rethinking how they can protect their cities in the future as these extreme weather events increase. 

A small sampling of what’s on their minds: P.G. City Manager Ben Harvey is asking if PG&E could do more to reinforce and update existing power lines and equipment to withstand extreme weather; Monterey’s city manager, Hans Uslar, says it might be time for the city and residents to seriously consider undergrounding power lines; and Carmel City Administrator Chip Rerig says there’s talk of, in some cases, allowing the removal of otherwise healthy Monterey pines that are near the end of life, between 90-120 years, before they crush someone else’s garage—or anyone who finds themselves in the path of one falling.

There will be a lot to discuss and unpack around these storms and what to do about trees and power infrastructure in city council meetings, board of supervisors meetings and state legislative hearings in the months to come. For now, our reality is we have to be prepared to sometimes sit in the dark and wait.

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