In a crisis, Bay area is calm but cranky : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

February 7, 2001

In a Crisis, Bay Area Is Calm but Cranky


Fair use for educational purposes only!

AN FRANCISCO, Feb. 6 — Just another perfect morning in the "most beautiful city on earth," and Sandy Strauss was relaxing in front of the always-packed Peet's Coffee in Pacific Heights, sipping a caffè latte, ready to take on the world.

"Please," she said, "tell everybody that this rolling-blackout stuff is just hype. I haven't had the lights go off once. Not once!"

Friends and relatives back in New York — "where I hear the weather is just awful" — keep calling and e- mailing, asking her how she copes with the daily dark. "They think rolling blackouts are like tornadoes barreling through," said Ms. Strauss, a 27-year-old software sales manager, swirling her finger in the air like a twister. "They don't even believe me when I say the lights haven't gone out once. Tell them: Not once!"

"You tell 'em!" agreed John Warfield, a freelance writer who could not help but overhear her.

"I'll say!" said a woman passing by with a Jack Russell terrier.

And so on and so on here in San Francisco. Not that anyone is ignoring the blaring headlines. People are turning off lights and lowering thermostats, for the most part. And they are griping about the latest utility bills and worrying about how the state's agricultural industry and Silicon Valley will cope without enough power.

As far as the energy situation goes, they are, as Terri Tabriz said while sipping white wine with two friends outside a cafe, "thinking about it daily."

All the doom-and-gloom stories spread across the globe over the last few weeks, though, are making normally sanguine residents of this thriving metropolis cranky.

For all the emergency alerts, they point out, the Bay Area has experienced only two days of rolling blackouts, on some streets of some neighborhoods for some 90 minutes. Life goes on seemingly at its normal pace, with the cafes only slightly moodier and the white holiday lights still glowing in the trees outside restaurants.

But what really sets the populace on edge, besides the rest of the country's assumption that SanFrancisco is suffering in the dark, is the overwhelming belief that the utility deregulation mess is a consequence of politicians' missteps and power companies' manipulations. So why should any burden fall on the people?

What galls Ms. Tabriz, a 43-year- old resident of Corte Madera, in Marin County, is that the higher utility bills punish those who can least afford them. Except for a recent emergency 9 percent increase, the retail price of electricity has been capped under the state deregulation program, but residents have felt the full brunt of soaring wholesale prices of natural gas.

"I was at my manicurist today," Ms. Tabriz said, "and she said that her gas bill went from 30 to 130 dollars."

Mary Bishop-Faust, a high-school teacher, told of a friend whose combined utility bill was now $200 a month — probably, she said, a 100 percent increase. "I know people who are barely able to stay in this city at all," Ms. Bishop-Faust said, "and any added financial burden could mean disaster for them."

Ms. Tabriz's friend Carlee McCarty, a real estate appraiser, said: "My gas has gone up $62! But I only started using gas four years ago. I can get used to not using it."

With a fire station down her street, Ms. McCarty said, she knows she will be spared any planned blackouts, since streets on the same grid as fire stations, police stations and hospitals are exempt from them.

"What I want to know," Ms. McCarty said, "is why at night they don't turn off the lights in the office buildings downtown."

By next week, the lights must be dimmed or off at night downtown, and in businesses across the state; offenders will face $1,000 fines. But that new rule, imposed last week in an executive order by Gov. Gray Davis, has only fueled the rather peevish mood of the city.

"It needs clarification," said Yany Galiatzatos, behind the counter at his convenience store, Snacks on First. "By what criteria are they going to say who gets the $1,000 citation? By how many bulbs?"

At the Henry O Menswear store, Andrew Garcia, a salesman, said being fined for using electricity was plain wrong. "It doesn't seem fair," he said. "I mean, it's a free country. We're paying for the electricity, right? It's being metered. There are too many businesses to check. It's going to be another waste of money to try, another project that won't be finished."

Michael Liener, who owns the Aurobora, a fine-art printing shop, was already fed up with the energy crisis. "The way this whole thing is being played is so transparent," he said.

Mr. Liener said he was sure that President Bush would use the state's problem to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"They're just going to convince people we are in such dire straits, we've got to open up Alaska — and all the other national parks, too, while we're at it," he said. "They'll turn around public opinion — people will be going, `Well, there is an energy crisis. . . .' "

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

-- Swissrose (, February 08, 2001

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