Tennis shouldn’t be sacrificed to grow pickleball

“Pickleball players gave us money.”

That’s what one of the board members who manages the parks in Chico told a group of tennis players who attended their latest meeting.

We were there because of a rumor going around that more courts were going to be converted to pickleball. We wanted to let the powers that be know that we weren’t going to stand by idly and watch our sport be taken from us.

It seems unconscionable that a city with more than 100,000 people only has four tennis courts. No longer are the high school and college courts public.

Pickleball courts are replacing tennis courts in Chico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I won’t argue whether pickleball could use more courts. But I will argue that it should not be at the sacrifice of tennis courts.

Community Park used to have eight tennis courts. Incrementally that has decreased to four as they were converted to pickleball. Considering one is used for teaching for nine months out of the year, there are really only three tennis courts.

So many red flags went up for me in the short time we were at the meeting. Like, they favored pickleball over tennis because those people gave them money? Bribery was the first word that came to my mind. It certainly makes me want to get a hold of their financials.

Chico’s parks are run by the Chico Area Recreation District (CARD). It’s a special district with an elected board. All five members are old white men. There’s a lot of that demographic here. Not all of them looked like they even recreate. Yes, I’m being judgmental and I’m OK with that.

Until I went to the meeting I didn’t know CARD wasn’t a department, so to speak, of the city of Chico. I still have a lot to learn about my new hometown.

At the meeting we were told there are no plans for at least five years to change the tennis-pickleball court numbers.

The pro at the tennis courts said he has not been asked to give input about tennis court removal. This is absurd. Another red flag. Why try to grow the game of tennis and not have any place for these people to play?

The following is what I wrote up to read to the CARD board at the March 28 meeting. I was essentially stopped when I said I hoped I had been given wrong info. I did carry on to read the part about their master plan.

It was interesting the board and staff engaged our group in dialog. That doesn’t usually happen with non-agendized public comments. Not sure if this should be another red flag or not; did they violate protocols or the Brown Act? They did violate the Brown Act. I just don’t know if they have to follow it.

OK, here’s what I wrote, which I left with staff to be put in the public record:

Thank you for allowing me the time to speak with you today. My name is Kae Reed. I am a resident of Chico and a regular tennis player at the public courts. 

It has come to my attention the city is considering converting more tennis courts into pickleball courts. I hope I have been given bad information.

Mary Helen Sprecher, managing editor of Sports Destination Management, wrote in the National Recreation and Park Association’s magazine that, “70 percent of all tennis is played at public facilities, either free or for very little cost. And, the appeal of tennis goes across all demographic and socioeconomic groups. It is, after all, the sport for a lifetime. It can be learned in childhood — or adulthood, for that matter. It can be played by three generations and, sometimes, even more. Because of this, and because of its wide appeal, the sport aligns with NRPA’s Health and Wellness and Social Equity Pillars.”

I was 10 when I first stepped onto a tennis court in the Bay Area; much like the ones I’m playing on now as an adult in Chico. My mom signed me up for lessons. Probably much like the lessons I see being taught on the public courts here. 

I agree with Miss Sprecher – tennis is a lifetime sport. It is for me and my friends. There aren’t many sports that you can play your whole life. Why would you consider taking that away from people? 

CARD’s own five-year master plan published in 2018 and updated in 2019 says, “Tennis continues to be a popular activity in Chico. However, the growth of pickleball has put stress on the existing tennis courts. In 2015, one tennis court was converted into four pickleball courts, and another tennis court was converted in 2018. The district should explore new construction of courts in another park as not to compete with tennis.”

I’m going to read that last sentence again to you and remind you that these are your words, your recommendation what you signed off on when you approved the master plan update. It says, “The district should explore new construction of courts in another park as not to compete with tennis.”

But that isn’t what you did. Instead you took two more tennis courts away from us and gave them to pickleball.

A park that once had eight tennis courts now only has four.

Tennis is a viable sport. These courts are used year round. I know. I’m on them. Lessons are being taught March through November. People want to learn the sport.

Your own document said even with six tennis courts pickleball was encroaching on tennis. Now we have four courts; really it’s only three because one is a teaching court.

Chico is growing. So is tennis. Really. The Tennis Industry Association reports that U.S. tennis participation grew by 1 million players in 2022 with more than 23.6 million playing the sport. That was the third consecutive year that the sport has seen an increase. The numbers for 2023 have not been published.

You should be considering adding tennis courts in Chico, not eliminating them. As you go through the resurfacing process this year, seriously consider returning what you took away from us by converting pickleball courts back to tennis.

Thank you again for your time and consideration.

Truth in real estate advertising missing in dunes sale

A large for sale sign sits on top of a dune. A dune that is not supposed to be built upon based on current law.

Should it be illegal to list such a property? Not if there is truth in advertising—as in this is a non-buildable lot.

A for sale sign on a dune property in Todos Santos, Mexico, that is not supposed to be built on. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Should the real estate agent and company who the person works for be fined or held accountable in some other way for describing a non-buildable lot as buildable? Yes.

Todos Santos, and other parts of Baja California Sur, are struggling to keep the dunes free of development. This is all about the environment. It’s the law, today, that these dunes are to be protected.

The Program for Urban Development (PDU) for Todos Santos, El Pescadero, and Las Playitas was published in 2012. It covers more than 30 miles from Elias Calles on the south to Agua Blanca north of Todos Santos. The PDU prohibits any development on primary and secondary dunes.

With the powers that be in the state government of Baja California Sur, the state which Todos Santos is part of, working to rewrite the laws when it comes to development, it’s possible in the future this lot in question will be allowed to be built on.

This particular lot has a sign with a QR code that goes to Mijares Advisors/aMiGo Realtor. An iPhone translation of the listing from Spanish to English says, “Welcome to this impressive paradisiacal corner of Baja California Sur, where it offers you an unparalleled life experience on the beach. Located a few steps from the gentle but enveloping wave of the Pacific Ocean to enjoy. The space is an invitation to creativity: 5,700 m2 that gives you the opportunity to design your dream place.”

So, obviously the lot is being sold as though it can be built upon.

Mexico has plenty of laws pertaining to real estate deals. And each state within the country has another layer. The problem is enforcement and corruption.

A vigilant group of Mexicans and expats is fighting to keep the current PDU in place. A sign across the road coming into town from La Paz, where the state government officials work, says, “No al nuevo PDU” meaning “No to the New PDU”.

Everyone who is part of breaking the law ought to be held accountable—including everyone involved in the real estate transaction—agents, brokers, bankers—everyone. Maybe laws need to be in place for contractors willing to work on an illegal build as well.

Jury pool an interesting cross section of society

Looking around I wondered if this assembled group really were my peers.

If I were the one on trial, how would they see me? A criminal because I had been accused of a crime and arrested on charges of doing something unlawful? Innocent until proven guilty?

I spent the better part of the day in a Butte County courtroom last month as a potential juror in a battery case. An inmate was accused of battering a corrections officer. The defendant looked nervous, with his leg shaking much of the time. Mine would too no matter if I were guilty or not.

What a great people watching venue. Loved sitting next to a woman who is a middle school teacher. We had similar comments about “our peers” who had been called to the jurors’ box to be questioned by the opposing attorneys.

We wanted to strangle the people who would not give a direct answer, therefore prolonging how long we all sat there. Just say you are biased and move on. Be truthful. It’s OK. We’re already judging you, so it doesn’t matter. You’re making it worse for yourself, the attorney and the rest of us.

One woman could not understand how someone could have been battered without being injured. The defense attorney wanted to know if all the potential jurors could convict someone if the victim had not been injured. This woman argued there is no way someone could be battered without being injured. The assistant district attorney explained the legal definition. She acquiesced and said, well, if it’s the law, then I guess so.

People were asked if anyone close to them were in law enforcement, and how that might impact their impartiality.

A couple people talked about how they don’t have good feelings toward cops of any kind. When pressed they said they would try to be open minded. One woman in particular shared how politically she is more liberal and therefore doesn’t trust law enforcement. What the hell? Really?

What a false generalization that liberals don’t like cops and conservatives do. Hope she never needs help from law enforcement.

Another question was if people had knowledge of the case from the news or elsewhere. I was going to have to answer “yes” because when the judge said the defendant’s name I Googled him. At that point the judge hadn’t told us to not look on the internet about the case and to not talk to anyone in the room or outside of it about the case. That probably ought to be said at the get-go.

It still amazes me what people wear to court. One guy was in shorts. Another wore an NRA T-shirt that said: “Never mess with a man’s family.” Neither got the opportunity to be dismissed, or picked.

I still want to be on a jury. This trial was to last one to two days. The other jury being seated that day was in for a four-week stint; that would have been tough since I’m still working. Glad to have done my civic duty if only for a few hours.

Magic of Baja comes through loud and clear in latest song

It’s hard to capture the essence of a location with just a few words, but singer-songwriter Tim Lang has done it.

In his latest single that dropped late last year, the Todos Santos resident in just more than three minutes sings about what Baja means to him. Only the Baja Knows is bound to resonate with anyone who has called Baja home or has visited this magical peninsula.

Lang said his goal was to share “experiences completely unique to anyone who has lived on The Baja.”

Tim Lang performs at Todos Santos Brewing in 2018. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s about swimming with whale sharks, witnessing the sunrise over the Sea Cortez and later that same day seeing the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. It’s driving on dirt roads not knowing the destination. And it’s coping with poor cell service by writing messages on a dusty hood of a car.

It’s also a bit of a thank you to everyone—near and far—who has supported his music career in Baja. It was 15 years ago that Lang first came to Todos Santos on a friend’s recommendation. Prior to that he had been living on the Mexican mainland.

But something about Baja had first piqued his interest when he was a kid living in Wisconsin. Even though he wasn’t anywhere near an ocean, the walls of his room were covered with surfing posters—a sport he loves to this day. He wrote about Baja even then.

“I had a strong pull to get there,” Lang said.

Only the Baja Knows will be part of an album by the same name that is slated to be released later this year. Included on it will be two other versions of the same song—one more “rockish” as Lang called it and the other acoustic.

On the current version his wife Lorena Lang is on percussion, Scott Swayze of Todos Santos is on electric guitar, Robby Scharf formerly of Todos Santos and now living in California is on bass guitar. It was co-produced and mixed by Dane Taylor.

This isn’t Lang’s first song that has something to do with his adopted hometown. (He was born in Maine.) Nor does he expect it to be his last.

Lang said Baja provides him with “bottomless inspiration,” adding, “I don’t think I have enough time to explore everything I want to see.”

And it’s often those experiences that wind up as lyrics in his extensive playlist.

The video of Only the Baja Knows is like a tourism ad for Baja. Even his dog, whose name is Baja, is featured in it. Of course she was once a stray street dog who adopted the Langs.

Lang will be performing throughout Baja Sur starting in April. Dates are on his website.

Note: A version of this story first appeared in the Gringo Gazette.

Life of cyclist forever remembered along bike path

It’s sad when someone has to die for them to be publicly honored. It’s even more sad that it takes multiple deaths to bring about infrastructure improvements.

Such was the case for Brad Koehly and the Midway bike path that connects Chico and the town of Durham.

The plaque at the Midway bike trail near Durham honoring Brad Koehly. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The Chico Enterprise Record wrote, “Before the path was undertaken, the Midway was one of the most dangerous routes for bicyclist because there is little shoulder and traffic is relatively heavy and fast.”

I never knew Koehly. He was a student at Chico State when he was killed Dec. 10, 1982, after a car struck him while he was riding home to Durham.

The 2.5 mile bike path was dedicated in 1994.

It was earlier this year while riding on the paved path that I noticed the marker. A simple plaque mounted onto a rock says, “This bike path is dedicated to the memory of Brad Koehly, October 4, 1994.”

That got me wondering who Koehly was. His girlfriend at the time wrote a blog post on the 30th anniversary of his death. Only wonderful things to say about the young man she had loved so many years ago.

It struck me that he wasn’t that much older than me when he died. But his life ended in his 20s, while mine keeps going well into my 50s. None of us knows our expiration date, so to speak, but we can be more cognizant of who we share the road with.

“Nearly 1,000 bicyclists die and over 130,000 are injured in crashes that occur on roads in the United States every year,” the CDC’s website says. “Bicycle trips make up only 1 percent of all trips in the United States. However, bicyclists account for over 2 percent of people who die in a crash involving a motor vehicle on our nation’s roads.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also reports, “The costs of bicycle injuries and deaths from crashes typically exceed $23 billion in the United States each year. These costs include spending on health care and lost work productivity, as well as estimated costs for lost quality of life and lives lost.”

Businesses stepping up to help workers who are caregivers

Who is caring for the aging among us? Workers. As in people who have full-time jobs are at the same time caregivers to parents, other older relatives or friends.

“One in five full-time workers is a caregiver. Across sectors, in every state, at every level of employment, caregiver status is impacting the health of individuals and the bottom line of companies,” Karen Kavanaugh, chief of strategic initiatives at Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, said. “Sixty percent of caregivers experience work disruption and a third have had to leave a job because of their caregiving responsibilities. Caregiving is not just an issue of public health—it is a significant economic challenge for employer and employee alike.”

Elder care, as it’s known, is slowly being discussed at the executive level, with companies beginning to offer benefits specifically to address this need. To start with, it is mostly larger firms that are doing so.

These benefits go beyond what state and federal law requires.

While lawmakers are continually tweaking the California Family Rights Act that was first passed in 1993, what individual employers are doing is more comprehensive and strategically designed to assist their people.

One thing that may help more workers in California is the passage this past legislative session of Senate Bill 616 that expands the minimum paid sick days from three to five starting this year. This time off may be used when a caregiver or her recipient is ill or has medical appointments.

Corporate compassion

Many caregivers who aren’t getting paid will say it is a time commitment, financial strain and emotional roller coaster. That is why companies are coming to the rescue with a variety of tools to help ease the burden.

“(Elder care) has definitely become more of a pressing concern and stressor for employees,” Goretti Hamlin, chief people officer, for Petaluma-based Amy’s Kitchen said.

Two main ways Amy’s is addressing the issue are by offering flexible schedules and paying for 16 visits through Lyra.

Hamlin explained the vendor offers a variety of services including legal and financial support, dependent or elder care resources, and the ability to connect workers with other partners.

“Fundamentally, our ways of working have changed in the last four years. We are dealing with stressors that we weren’t seeing in the workplace,” Hamlin said. “I think Covid erased the line between home and work. While we always talked about bringing the whole person to work, it became completely different when people were working from home.”

People today are speaking out more about what they need for a work-life balance.

Amy’s recently contracted with Bright Horizons, which provides elder care solutions for employers.

Financial literacy and support are the focus of Amy’s contract with Bright Horizons. Hamlin said this allows employees to work confidentially to address financial needs related to supporting older family members and how to budget for future and immediate care.

Bank of America also uses Bright Horizons in its benefits package.

“An employee can arrange for in-home back up care through Bright Horizons’ network of professionally trained caregivers when their regular adult care arrangements are temporarily not available. This back up services is offered at significantly reduced rates with Bank of America subsidizing most of the cost,” according to spokeswoman Colleen Haggerty.This benefit has provided more than 52,000 days of back-up care year to date for thousands of employees.”

Bank of America has recognized the need for elder care support for workers since it initiated a program in 2009, with enhancements being made since then.

The financial institution also offers:

  • Free and discounted elder care law support and document preparation services from attorneys on health care directives, power of attorney options and other legal matters.
  • In 2022, the bank introduced Papa, an adult caregiving service that offers an extra hand to help aging loved ones with activities like errands and transportation through a network of trained helpers. The company provides up to 15 hours annually at no cost to the employee, and additional hours are available for purchase at a discounted rate.
  • Up to six hour per year of free consultation to help evaluate ongoing senior care management.

Health technology company Medtronic says it has a “history of prioritizing employee wellbeing” for its more than 95,000 workers globally.

“We offer our employees caregiving support through Wellthy, a care concierge platform that works with families to ease their care burdens,” Denise King, vice president of global benefits and payroll at Medtronic, said. “Employees are connected with a personal care coordinator who can help manage a wide range of care needs. Whether it’s assistance hiring in-home care or navigating Medicare plans, our hope is to support employees in navigating complex, chronic or ongoing care needs–both for themselves and their family members.”

The company’s family leave program allows workers to take six weeks off every 24 months to care for a child or aging parent.

“… we know that caregiving can be emotionally taxing, which is why Medtronic offers employees access to our global employee assistance programs, as well as on-demand emotional support resources through the app Headspace Care,” King said. “With Headspace Care, employees and their family members (18 and older) can talk one-on-one with a behavioral health coach 24/7, receive tailored care that is relevant to them, and learn new strategies for overall mental health.”

Medtronic also works with Bright Horizons.

“(Bright Horizons) provides employees with back-up care services for children, as well as adult and elder family members during a lapse or breakdown in normal care arrangements,” King explained.

The pandemic led Bay Area biopharmaceutical firm Ultragynx to rethink employee benefits.

“This benefit is homegrown. We built it ourselves,” Jen Jigalin, executive director of global benefits, said. “It was really something to assist people as they were coming back to the office. We developed this benefit to offset those concerns.”

Ultragynx workers, like those at other companies, had their lives up ended when the world shut down; priorities and responsibilities changed. The company acknowledged employees had needs, like self- and family care, that they wanted addressed.

Ultragynx’s rolled out new benefits in 2022 for all types of caregiving, plus a personal wellness component. The goal is for it to be flexible. It can be used for gym memberships, child care, dog walking, or elder care expenses. The latter could include in-home help or meal services.

Of the 1,300 global employees, about 40% have taken advantage of the perk, according to Jigalin. The company uses a third party vendor to track spending and validate receipts that must be submitted for reimbursement.

Decades of experience

Bright Horizons has been helping people since 1986, with elder care a growing segment of services.

“Elders are a fast growing demographic of dependents in our clients place and across the U.S. One in three caregivers is over the age of 65, so the need for elder care is certainly more pronounced,” Priya Krishnan, Bright Horizons’ chief digital and transformation officer, said.

Bright Horizons’ has more than 200 clients in the United States using elder care services. Services range from providing advice to arranging in-home care.

Rosalyn Carter, the first lady who died in November at the age of 96, was a pioneer in the world of caregiving.

“When Mrs. Carter founded the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers in 1987, the term ‘caregiver’ was not part of our national conversation. Even those providing care did not self-identify because, to many, caring for family or friends is just ‘what you do’ for the people you love,” Kavanaugh, with the center, said. “Today, thanks to Mrs. Carter’s leadership and vision, we have a much greater understanding of what the caregiver experience looks like for the more than 53 million Americans who provide care. It’s an issue that affects our health care system, our economy, and the strength of our communities, and Mrs. Carter was ahead of her time in advocating for systems-level reform to better support caregivers.”

In 2021, the Georgia-based center published “Recalibrating for Caregivers: Recognizing the Public Health Challenge”. While many of the facts and statistics are sobering—like people having to quit their job to care for an older person, and the toll it’s taking financially and emotionally, Kavanaugh said the conclusion is that what’s needed is a “comprehensive public health approach to caregiver health and well-being.”

Kavanaugh added, “The caregiver experience is often overgeneralized. Our healthcare system and policies typically categorize caregivers by the disease condition of the care recipient, with little to no information on the lived experiences of caregivers themselves.”

The center would like employers to offer more flexible work arrangements, introduce job sharing, mental health services, including ensuring that counseling services include those with expertise in caregiving.

“While we know that employers can do more to support their employee caregivers, they cannot solve all of the problems that stem from a fragmented, inaccessible, and unaffordable long-term care system,” Kavanaugh said. “We are helping employers understand the connections between the public policy context and the challenges of their workforce so that they can add their voices and political influence to the call for systemic change.”

Note: A version of this story first appeared in the North Bay Business Journal.

Playing with poop all in the name of good health

Sending poop in the mail isn’t something I thought I would ever do.

But I did. Right after making a deposit in a container that straddled the toilet seat.

Welcome to Cologuard. Trust me, I welcomed this opportunity after multiple colonoscopies. I started those when I was 40 because I have a family history of colon cancer.

My new doc suggested Cologuard since I’ve never had polyps. Everything is just fine down there, I’m happy to report. I’m supposed to do the Cologuard thing every three years. I had been on an every five-year cycle for colonoscopies.

There are different schools of thought if Cologuard is the correct route for me based on my family history. I have 20 months until I’d be due for my next colonoscopy. I’m taking that time to decide if I want one, assuming I stick with the every five-year routine. I’ll do some more research as that date gets closer.

No matter what I decide it didn’t hurt to go through the Cologuard process.

I was surprised that in information Cologuard sent it says, “By 2030, researchers predict that colorectal cancer will be the leading cause of cancer deaths in people ages 20-49,” but also pointed to how the guideline for those of average risk is to start screenings at age 45. Maybe it should be sooner?

It was in 2021 that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the age from 50 to 45 to start screenings for the average person.

I write all of this in hopes you all are getting screened.

Facts and figures about colon cancer:

• Lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 23 for men and 1 in 25 for women.

• Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and the fourth leading cause in women in the United States. It’s the second most common cause of cancer deaths when numbers for men and women are combined.

• Expected number of deaths this year—53,010.

• Death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping in older adults for several decades, which in large part is attributed to screenings and better treatment.

• In people younger than 55 death rates have been increasing about 1 percent each year since the mid-2000s.

Source: American Cancer Society

Saving money with more fuel-efficient vehicle

It’s amazing how seldom I have gone to a gas station in the last year.

That’s what buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle does—saves me money and means less fossil fuels are being consumed.

Tracking gas mileage on a Nissan Rogue Sport SL AWD. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A year ago this month I bought a Nissan Rogue Sport SL all-wheel drive. This came 20-plus years after buying a Jeep Wrangler.

In the last 12 months I have spent $1,582.45 on fuel for the Nissan. This compares to the prior 12-month period where I spent $2,547.93 to fill the Jeep’s tank.

I realize miles traveled need charting as well—about 10,000 miles each of those years.

Yes, I know there is always a fluctuation in what it costs per gallon of gas. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports the average price for a gallon of gasoline in California in 2022 was $5.406, while last year it was $4.879. So, this would partly account for the difference in the above dollar figures. (While I have filled up in Nevada and Oregon in the past two years, 99.9 percent of my stops are in California.)

That 2002 Jeep came with a stated 15 miles per gallon in the city, 18 miles on the highway. That’s from the sticker that for some reason I still have, but expect to toss when I’m done writing this.

In reality, the Jeep got about 17 miles per gallon on a regular basis, with all freeway hitting 20 on occasion.

That same paper says the Wrangler had a 19 gallon gas tank. I beg to differ. It was more like 15 gallons.

(Side note: that sticker says I paid $895 extra for air conditioning. I wonder if any vehicle even has the option to not have a/c today.)

The Nissan is supposed to get 24 mpg in town, 30 on the highway, or a combined 27 mpg. The best I’ve logged was last month between Chico and El Dorado Hills, where I clocked 39.5 mpg. That was all highway driving.

I am more regularly tallying 25 mpg, which is pretty much all in town driving.

It has a 14.5 gallon fuel tank.

The telling figure would be to know how many gallons of gas I actually consumed each of those years. I don’t have those numbers, unfortunately.

Besides saving money, I love being able to drive farther between fill ups. I like knowing I’m doing a little better by not consuming as much gas but still driving as much. I suppose I could work on driving fewer miles to be more environmentally friendly. Something to think about.

I realize I could have bought a better vehicle when it comes to gas mileage. I could have gone hybrid or electric. Maybe one day. But for now I’m thrilled with the improvement on gas mileage and decrease in the outflow of money.

PG&E CEO talks wildfire reduction, increase in energy bills

Humanizing a utility company. That’s what Patti Poppe has been trying to do since she took over as CEO of PG&E in January 2021.

While the gas and electric company is viewed by many with hostility because of its responsibility with starting deadly catastrophic wildfires throughout Northern California and for increasing rates without consumers having much say, Poppe uses a word not often found in corporate America—love.

Patti Poppe has been CEO of PG&E since January 2021. (Image: PG&E)

“We bring love to the workplace in a lot of ways. It starts with safety for sure,” the 55-year-old Poppe said. “I attended the funeral for a co-worker a few years ago and it occurred to me on that day that we often wait until it’s too late to express our full emotions.”

She said showing love for customers, the 27,000 employees and 14,000 daily contractors is accomplished by speaking up when knowing something isn’t right, isn’t safe, or one just doesn’t understand something.

“In that way we protect one another,” Poppe said.

While consumers love when the lights come on and the furnace blows hot air, paying the electric and gas bill often elicits other emotions.

Residential PG&E ratepayers on average saw their bills go up 12.8 percent in January or $32.50. (The utility had requested a 17.9 percent increase.)

When the California Public Utility Commission delayed its decision about the four-year (2023-26) general rate case until last November it resulted in the 2023 and 2024 increases being combined starting last month.

This series of adjustments will have residential gas and electric bills going up an average of 3.6 percent over three years (2024-26). Bills will increase on average another $4.50 in 2025, and then decrease by almost $8 in 2026.

The bulk of the millions of dollars that will be collected with the latest increases are slated to fund wildfire risk reduction projects, electric capacity upgrades to support new business connections, and meet climate resiliency goals. Poppe defends the increases by saying they are nowhere near the 6 percent to 8 percent inflationary spikes in other sectors, adding she was able keep them lower by making internal cuts.

The following is a Q&A with Poppe.

What do you believe are PG&E’s best solutions to curtail wildfire ignitions from its equipment?

At PG&E we have made a stand that catastrophic wildfires shall stop, and I’m proud of the progress we’ve made toward our goal. We’ve reduced wildfire risk with what we call our layers of wildfire protection, which we’ve continued to refine since 2017.

Let me share a few of those protections: Our 10,000 miles of undergrounding effort is well underway. We buried 350 miles of powerlines last year in the highest fire threat areas—the most we’ve ever buried in a year and we did it for less cost than we had forecast. Also, our Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings turn off power automatically in one-tenth of a second if a hazard is detected on the lines that could cause a fire, helping to keep our customers in high-fire risk and surrounding areas safe.

As of November 2023, we had reduced CPUC-reportable ignitions in our high-risk areas by 27 percent from the previous year and 67 percent from 2017. Overall, we’ve reduced wildfire risk from our equipment by 94 percent.

The California Public Utilities Commission recommended a $45 million penalty in connection with the 2021 Dixie Fire, the state’s second largest inferno. How will this affect ratepayers?

We are not seeking cost recovery from our customers for this. We continue to make it right and make it safe for our customers and our hometowns by resolving claims from past fires and through our work to make our system safer every day.

What are your thoughts about the CPUC wanting to create a rate structure based on customers’ income?

I want to assure our customers that the affordability of our service is top of mind for me and all my co-workers at PG&E. We know that energy costs are very important for our customers and for our state’s economy. We are taking actions now to keep annual customer cost increases at or below assumed inflation between 2 percent and 4 percent.

As required by California Assembly Bill 205, we submitted a joint proposal last year to the CPUC along with Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to separate fixed infrastructure costs from the usage cost of electricity on residential customers’ bills.

Our joint proposal would decrease electric bills for lower-income residential customers, improve bill transparency and predictability, and advance clean energy goals. The CPUC will have a thorough and open process for evaluating the proposal in the coming years.

PG&E has filed for bankruptcy more than once. What is the solution to staying solvent?

We continue to focus every day on safely operating our gas and electric system for our customers and our hometowns. A safe utility is a financially healthy utility, and a financially healthy utility is essential to affordably meeting customer needs and keeping people safe.

We are deploying lean manufacturing tools to our utility business. Those lean tools are creating a way to increase value to customers at lower costs. That fundamental improvement for our hometowns is the bedrock for a successful energy provider, and we look forward to living up to the expectations of our customers.

Do you believe it would be better if utilities were not publicly traded?

I’m a big believer that the investor-owned utility model has significant customer benefits. Capital from our investors is essential to fund investments today in our climate-resilient infrastructure, so we can spread out the cost to customers over the life of the assets. That means customers get the full benefit today and pay over the long run.

Between salary, bonuses and stock options, you receive about $15 million a year. How do you justify that compensation package when ratepayers’ bills keep going up?

The latest data, from 2022, shows that among the top 20 U.S. electric utilities, we are in the middle of the pack for CEO-to-median employee pay ratio. It’s important to note that our 2023-2026 general rate case application did not seek cost recovery from customers for my compensation and benefits.

Investor groups like Climate Action 100+ believe compensation for utility executives should be tied to emission reduction goals. What are your thoughts about this philosophy?

We align executive compensation with safety and operational performance, which we think are important indicators of how we’re delivering for our hometowns. At the same time, we are committed to reducing our carbon footprint, reaching net zero energy and doing our part to heal the planet. Already, 95 percent of the electricity we deliver to our customers is from greenhouse-gas free resources, and we continue to add more renewable energy along with battery storage, microgrids and other solutions aimed at further advancing our climate goals.

You started your career in 1990 at General Motors as an associate manufacturing engineer. Why the switch to energy?

I had a great career at General Motors, and when I was there, I got a call from DTE Energy in Detroit with a job offer. My husband and I took a big leap of faith for our family and made the decision for me to move to DTE to run power plants, which was a great way to learn the energy industry.

What was your first job? What was your first career job?

When I turned 18, I was a waitress at night and worked at a brake manufacturer as an intern during the day. When I graduated from engineering school at Purdue University, I started working at General Motors as a manufacturing engineer in 1990.

Is this the job you wanted when you were young? If not, what were your early career aspirations?

I wanted to be a TV news broadcaster, but my father, who was a nuclear engineer at Consumers Energy in Michigan, guided me in a different direction. I was the youngest of seven girls and his final attempt to get an engineer. And he did! He knew I was good at math and science, and really took a stand for my future by encouraging me to go to engineering school. We went to an engineering career fair at Purdue University together that left quite an impression on me. I ended up studying industrial engineering at Purdue.

How will artificial intelligence help or hurt your business?

We see tremendous potential in artificial intelligence in keeping our customers safe. AI is one of the technologies that has supported our wildfire protection efforts. For example, we’ve installed over 600 high-definition cameras that have AI capabilities. These cameras can detect the difference between fog and smoke, and automatically alert our Hazard Awareness & Warning Center as well as local first responders, enabling speedy response and a safer community. We’re also using AI to choose optimal places for undergrounding based on ignition potential and consequences.

What concerns and goals do you have for your business and industry for the next five years?

The energy industry is at an inflection point. We’re working to build an energy system that is resilient to climate challenges, and we have an incredible opportunity to do this the right way for the future.

That’s why we created our 2023 Research and Development Strategy Report, which outlines nearly 70 of the highest priority challenges we face in building California’s energy future and invites innovators to join us in solving them. For example, in the next 20 years, we expect our electric load to grow by 70 percent; much of that from new electric vehicles.

That’s astounding growth, particularly after years of relatively flat demand. Growth on this scale will touch every corner of our system and requires a re-imagining of the grid. We need to make the smartest investments in the right way at the lowest cost for customers.

What one government regulation would you change and why?

I’m pleased that the state has shifted its views on nuclear energy in recent years and has opened the door for us to pursue renewing our operating licenses at Diablo Canyon Power Plant on the Central Coast. We’ve now filed our license renewal application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, just the beginning of this regulatory process. It would be a great honor to continue operating the plant well into the future. Diablo Canyon is a tremendous resource for the state, one of the safest nuclear plants in the nation, and the state’s largest power plant and producer of clean energy.

What companies in your industry do you admire and why?

Recently, I was delighted to attend the opening of a new facility in our service area focused on removing carbon from the atmosphere—an exciting new climate technology solution. A key takeaway from the event was how all of us need to be a part of the solution to not only help reach net zero emissions, but to begin to heal the planet. When I think of others I admire, I think of this ecosystem of utilities, startups, technology companies, community groups, local officials, and others who are all working together to support our shared, statewide goals for a decarbonized future.

What about your business keeps you up at night?

We run a 24/7/365 business, so I’m always concerned about the wellbeing of my co-workers who are out there on the system, no matter the conditions. I also know that our system has never been safer, and we continue to make it safer yet. When it comes to safety, our work is never done.

What is your approach to working with different generations?

We have a wonderful array of generations working here at PG&E. From my co-worker Billy Atkins who’s in his 90s and has been at the company for 70 years to our youngest co-workers just getting their start. It’s one of our strengths. Our younger co-workers have an amazing opportunity to learn from more experienced co-workers who have potentially worked here for decades. And our younger team members are bringing new ideas and new ways of approaching work.

Other than money how do you measure success?

At PG&E, we measure our success by what we call the triple bottom line: ensuring that our work and our outcomes serve people, the planet and California’s prosperity all in equal measure. I’ll also say that we constantly measure and evaluate our performance through our Lean Operating System, which we’ve introduced over the past couple of years. Lean is rooted in the idea of daily visibility of the work, and a culture where both concerns and good ideas flow easily and promptly from the frontlines to the back office and back again. It’s the hallmark of successful companies.

How do you motivate people?

When I started at PG&E, fundamental changes were needed both operationally and culturally. A focus on leading with love has been a key ingredient for that change. A loving, joyful coworker experience translates to how we can serve our customers, our hometowns and our planet. I believe the world needs more love and we can be a force for it in the hometowns we serve.

How do you handle negative feedback?

I’ve learned along the way that love is a powerful force in the workplace, enabling teams to do amazing things. If we can approach even negative feedback with love and openness, a world of possibility can open up.

What is the most adventurous thing you have ever done?

Aside from agreeing to become the CEO of PG&E, the most adventurous thing I think I ever did was agree to an opportunity to help build a vehicle assembly plant in India when I was 24 years old. For a girl who had never left the country, this was a big decision.

Note: A version of this story first appeared in the North Bay Business Journal.

Not all housing proposals deserve a ‘yes’ vote to solve shortage

California has a housing shortage. That much I think most people agree with.

“By some estimates, California was 3.5-million housing units short of what we needed to accommodate a population of our size,” Hans Johnson with the non-partisan, nonprofit think tank Public Policy Institute of California, told CapRadio last year.

In 2022, Ed Mayer, executive director of Butte County’s Housing Authority, told the Chico Enterprise Record that the county needs between 6,000 and 15,000 units. That’s a massive range. One would think the county could narrow that number down a bit.

In large part the local shortage has to do with the 2018 Camp Fire destroying 12,600 units, many of which have not been rebuilt.

Building more housing would seem to be the answer. So, why then, am I against the Valley’s Edge project near Chico?

It’s the wrong project.

The developer’s website says, “There would be approximately 230 acres of land suitable for custom homes, 330 acres dedicated to single-family home builders, and 90 acres for residential cottages, patio homes, courtyard, and cluster housing. Within the Village Core, there would be room for approximately 10 acres of multi-family apartments as well.”

In all, 2,777 residential units are planned. It sounds like a lot of sprawl to me.

The land in total is 1,448 acres near Honey Run Road, Stilson Canyon Road and Skyway that would have to be annexed from Butte County to the city of Chico.

Bill Brouhard, 65, told the local paper he has been talking about this project since he was in his 40s.

It is unfathomable to me that in 2024 there is a plan on the books anywhere to build fake lakes. This project would do that. I live where there are man-made lakes. While I love walking by them, they come with a ton of environmental question marks.

I’m not convinced climate change impacts have been sufficiently studied to make such a massive development justifiable. I worry about fire, water and the overall environment.

The current construction I see on this side of town where I live and near where the project is proposed has not come with road improvements. Bruce Road is a nightmare. It was this way when I moved here three years ago and is only worse with more people using it from the apartments on Highway 32 and Meriam Park.

I also don’t trust the City Council members who have approved this project.

I will be voting no on Measures O and P, which are on the March 5 ballot. They have to do with a General Plan amendment for Valley’s Edge and the specific plan for the development.

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