Congressman Kiley assess Nevada County’s damage needs

State Assemblyman Kevin Kiley has announced he is running to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in the recall election set to be held Sept. 14.
Submitted to The Union

Congressman Kevin Kiley spent Friday morning at the county’s Emergency Operations Center at the Eric Rood Administrative Center in Nevada City, assessing the winter storm response this past week.

Congressman Kiley wanted to know what his office can do to help the residents of Nevada County recover from the wrath of snow storms that left 30% of the county without power as of Friday, and even more residents prior to that.

To help answer some of the questions, leaders shared information about the high levels of response from partnerships from agencies across the county.

Jan Arbuckle, mayor of Grass Valley, invited Congressman Kiley to listen to the needs of the county pertaining to the lacking power infrastructure, the need for more emergency response crews and improving communication between PG&E, AT&T, Comcast and the community.

Kiley also toured the Grass Valley Veteran’s Memorial Building emergency warming shelter at 255 South Auburn St. where over 100 residents were provided services on Thursday. These services will be available at the site through Thursday, March 9.

A state-wide emergency declaration for Nevada County and twelve other counties was made by Governor Newsom last week. Kiley ended the meeting stating that he would approach President Biden for disaster funding.

“We’re also requesting a major disaster declaration from the president that would hopefully free up some more resources too,” Kiley said.

Help with messaging and updating advisories for weather and traffic and preparing for loss of power or no transportation was another way Kiley offered his assistance.

Recognizing that 80% or more of the population of Nevada County is over the age of 65, Arbuckle welcomed any assistance in clearing driveways, welfare checks, or helping people prepare for storms of this size.

The issue of county-wide power outages loomed over the meeting and all recognized the complexity of the issue. County Executive Officer Alison Lehman spoke of the need for improved infrastructure as a public safety measure.

“Where we could use your assistance is the understanding that infrastructure, not just response when there is a storm event from PG&E, but really providing focus on how we’re going to have infrastructure that is sustainable,” Tillotson said. “When we have PSPS (public safety power shutoff) or storm events so that we don’t have 30% of our population without power. It really becomes a health and safety issue.”

Kiley asked what could have been done to be better prepared and Gary Petersen, Nevada City Councilmember responded, with information regarding PG&E.

“Invest in infrastructure. The technology has been there for decades. The profit has been there for decades, but it hasn’t been invested in infrastructure appropriately. So you have failing infrastructure. And that’s the story of PG&E right now,” Petersen said. “The investments are only being made now because of criminal charges and the courts getting involved. Otherwise, I’m not convinced that they would have made these investments over time.”

Arbuckle agreed to some extent that small communities are not always a priority for companies like PG&E and the state because of their size.

“Small towns seem to be put down low on the chain of priority with PG&E and the state because we are small… that’s why we have such a struggle with our infrastructure,” Arbuckle said.

Nevada County Emergency Operations Center Director Craig Griesbach reviewed a myriad of ways that officials have responded around the county and praised the partnerships between the many departments and organizations, including responses from private companies such as Robinson’s Enterprises in Nevada City who help with equipment, hauling and personnel.

“I can’t say how pivotal Cal Fire has been. Working in the field. They’ve been breaking their backs. 24/7…working together with all their partners, Griesbach said. “Search and rescue… welfare checks… people still stuck in their homes…11,000 without power… till together we are making substantial progress.”

Law enforcement has shown their incredible commitment to the community, according to Sheriff Shannan Moon. Mentioning the equipment such as the Snowcat and utility task vehicles that the sheriffs office has acquired over the years was crucial for reaching residents that were isolated and needed response to medical calls.

“The level of support we have in this community — its sacred trust — the reason why is because we do show up,” Moon said.

The number of 911 calls law enforcement is receiving has increased by 40-50%, according to Moon. Many of the calls are family members requesting welfare checks on a relative who is stranded and without power or communication.

The logistics of plowing over 560 miles of roads and 1,500 miles of private roads is astronomical, but the crews are making progress. According to Community Development Agency Director and acting Public Works Director Trisha Tillotson, Public Works opened up eight roads overnight.

“If you don’t have power you probably don’t have access either. Cal Fire concentrates on removing trees. Public works is focused on plowing,” Tillotson said.

The “cascading effect” of trees tangled in power lines blocking road crews from being able to plow snow was an addition to the discussion, according to Cal Fire Forester, Steve Garcia.

“The plows can’t do the snow removal when the trees are down. If the trees are tangled up in the wires, we need PG&E to come out because it’s a safety matter. So there is a cascading effect,” Cal Fire Forester, Steve Garcia said.

Communication with PG&E and county officials, as well as with residents was one area of improvement that almost everyone could agree with.

“We all have intense regard for the people who are doing the work in the field. It’s not about them. They’re putting everything on the line to get that power back on, Nevada City Councilmember Gary Petersen said. “The allocation of resources is the problem.”

Congressman Kiley commented that “It’s an incredibly challenging time.”

Marianne Boll-See is a reporter for The Union. She can be reached at

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