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Dark days 

Anybody have a lawnmower, hedge trimmer, or lopping shears PG&E could borrow? The company's really behind on its yard work!

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If you're one of the 800,000 Californians being left in the dark as PG&E cuts power during its Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS), here's why: PG&E is looking down the barrel of about $20 billion in liabilities because of fire damage caused by its equipment. Hey everybody! Check your La-Z-Boy rockers for loose change! PG&E needs your help!

The utility is supposed to manage future danger by cutting back trees and other potential fire hazards from its power lines, but oh geez, sorry, they're a little behind on this maintenance—what with dealing with closing Diablo Canyon Power Plant, declaring bankruptcy, and cutting off your power—so instead of doing their job and keeping your lights on, they're going to, you know ... not.

What we're experiencing is what the state government euphemistically calls "de-energization," and the California Public Utilities Code makes these shut-offs legal. All three of California's "investor-owned electric utilities"—Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E)—used to be pretty good places to invest your extra bucks ... until increased fire danger from that pesky "fake," "hoax," "scam" thing called global climate change showed up due in large part to burning fossil fuels: You know, the very thing PG&E, SoCal Edison, and SDG&E do to generate energy so we can air condition our McMansions and heat our pools ... um, except only rich public utility investors have McMansions and pools. Most of us are just trying to keep our electric bills paid, find the cheapest tacos, and get our kids to school.

Seeing what's happening to PG&E and its investors is sort of like watching a slow-motion circular firing squad ... from inside the center of the circle.

In case you're not following along at home, PG&E, which had been raking in profits for its shareholders for decades, is now desperately trying to survive to overcharge you another day. It can't afford to be liable for more fire damage, so for now it's going to flip the "off" switch. Hey, maybe you should invest in a gas-powered generator to run your grandma's respirator, charge gramps' electric wheelchair, or charge your cellphone in case of an emergency.

Times like this make me think that maybe, just maybe, things like public utilities ought to really be public, as in owned by the people and managed by the government. If your retort is that the government can't do anything right, and that the private sector is so much more efficient and better than the big old dumb government, may I draw your attention to our current predicament? PG&E hasn't exactly done a bang-up job keeping California powered-up and safe. In fact, it can't even get a simple press release right. PG&E sent out a statewide notice that said northern Santa Barbara County would be impacted by the current PSPS, except nope, that was just plain wrong.

Maybe we should put the Postal Service in charge. For just 55 cents, they managed to deliver my sternly worded letter to PG&E from my hovel in SLO to their ritzy corporate office in San Francisco in one day. Just sayin'!

Speaking of fires, water quality, and public safety, aside from PG&E and global climate change, it's all the homeless' fault. Salinas Riverbed fire? Homeless encampment! Human fecal matter in Central Coast watersheds? Homeless poopers! Illegal camping? Homeless laze-abouts!

Hmm. I wonder if there's a way to curb these problems? More public restrooms open 24/7? More beds in homeless shelters? Areas opened to homeless camping and actually designed to deal with the impact?

I know, I know! That's crazy talk!

In the meantime, I saw four camping tents scattered around Laguna Lake Park this morning and a pile of human excrement near the dumpster located next to one of two public restrooms that are locked up at night. Used to be the cops would be all over RVs camped around the city and Laguna Lake Park, but now I see such campers all the time.

Human poop and pee (yes, I'm 5 years old, OK) is also showing up pretty regularly in the entryway stairwells of the New Times' office—which is downtown, just ask Downtown SLO's Bettina Swigger, she knows. I'm not sure who the culprit is, but there aren't any public restrooms near this side of downtown and that person definitely stinks it up overnight—our staffers can smell it as they walk into work.

I don't know if homelessness is getting worse or if the homeless simply no longer try to hide. Maybe it's better to see them, to see our fellow humans with no place to go, no other option but to sleep in their car if they're lucky enough to have one, to pitch a tent in a city park, to curl up with a blanket under a tree.

Winter is coming, which hopefully means rain, which means danger for homeless encampments in creeks and riverbeds, under overpasses, and in drainage culverts. What are we going to do about it? Δ

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