Supe and Wineries Join the Battle Against PG&E

Locals meet to battle utility

Opponents of a PG&E substation in rural Gilroy or Morgan Hill have picked up powerful allies in their fight against the big utility, including growers and wineries.

Santa Clara County District 1 Supervisor Mike Wasserman said for the first time Monday that he’s opposed to the five rural sites on PG&E’s list of eight possible locations in his district.

And while the county has no jurisdiction over PG&E sites—that’s up to the California Public Utilities Commission—the utility is required to consult with the county, whose view the PUC can consider.

PG&E says the substation and new transmission lines are needed to keep up with power demands in the region and that they continue to review all sites. The preferred site and two alternatives will be picked in February and will be announced publicly by the end of March, a spokesperson for the utility said.

Residents near sites on Sycamore Avenue and Day Road and three on Watsonville Road in South County have banded together to oppose the rural locations.

They cite serious safety, well water quality and environmental concerns, including the potential impact on sensitive riparian habitat and at least one federally protected species, the steelhead trout.

The county’s agricultural community appears unanimous in its opposition, too, along with a conservation group, Coastal Habitat Education and Environmental Restoration, or CHEER.

Cheer formed a legal defense fund, hired a lawyer to oppose PG&E and has raised thousands of dollars for the battle, which it says it will take to federal court if necessary.

“I am recommending against these five sites for the numerous environmental reasons I stated previously,” Wasserman said in an emailed response Monday to the Dispatch.

Opponents of the rural sites have argued that only three locations in the city of Morgan Hill, including existing PG&E facilities should be considered, but Wasserman said that “At this time” he is not recommending any other sites.

“County staff conducted an initial screening and numerous analyses are on-going and for all we know, more information may come forward and more sites might ultimately be considered by PG&E.” Wasserman said.

Wasserman is half of a two-member committee of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors reviewing the substation matter.

Called the Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee, or HLUET, it recently received a staff report recommending that only the more urban Morgan Hill sites be considered. Staff recommended that the committee forward its recommendation to the full board for consideration.

David Cortese, president of the board of supervisors, is the other HLUET committee member. He said Tuesday that the matter will now go directly to the whole board, following cancellation of HLUET’s Jan. 19 meeting because its members attended the funeral of a mutual friend.

The next full board meeting is Monday, Feb. 6.

Asked if he supports the staff recommendation, Cortese said in an emailed response, “Not sure yet. Would like to hear public testimony.”

Reaction among PG&E critics to Wasserman’s position was swift and positive.

“That is great news, I welcome his support [and] I am greatly encouraged by this,” said Nigel Peacock of Gilroy.

Peacock is part of a residents’ steering committee convened at a Jan. 13 meeting at Kirigin Cellars winery of about 50 opponents of a substation at any of the five rural country sites.

Kirigin owner Dhruv Khanna is another steering committee member.

“I applaud supervisor Wasserman on his position,” Khanna said, adding, “PG&E should expand use of its existing [Morgan Hill] substation.”

Use of the southern locations would be “the most destructive of the environment,” with the destruction more severe the further south the site, he said.

In the meantime, the board of directors of the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau has unanimously agreed that the substation should not be built anywhere near the region’s wine trail.

And the county’s wineries have weighed in, registering their opposition in a Jan. 5 letter to PG&E and cc’d to Wasserman.

Wasserman helped create the Santa Clara County Wine Trail, the South County lop of which winds through the area and along each of the rural roads cited, including the bucolic and historic Redwood Retreat Road west of Gilroy.

“We are very concerned, in particular about some of the sites along Watsonville Road,” said Wineries of Santa Clara Valley president Karen Seeker of Seeker Vineyards in San Martin. The group represents 27 wineries.

“A substation would have big impact not only on our wineries but also the overall nature and beauty of that area,” she said Tuesday.