Usually It's OK to Ride in the Crosswalk

Is it legal to ride your bike in a crosswalk? Most of the time, the answer is yes, it is. 

Court Rules That PG&E is Liable for Butte Fire

This week the Sacramento County judge who is responsible for overseeing the thousands of cases arising from the Butte Fire ruled that PG&E must pay property owners for the damage the fire caused.  

The first cases will be going to trial on August 11.  The order means that the issue for the jury will not be whether PG&E should pay the fire's victims, but rather how much.

 

Ruling on Submitted Matter Inverse Condemnation Motions Signed 06-22-17 by Mike Danko on Scribd

Chandler Family Seeks to Make Crosswalks Safe

 After a  jury verdict in their favor, the Chandler family seeks to make El Camino crosswalks safe for others.

 

$9.5 Million Jury Verdict Against State of Calfornia for Family of Bicyclist Killed In Crosswalk

Chris Chandler, age 62, was hit by a car and killed crossing El Camino in Atherton.  The driver said he never saw Chris. The police blamed Chris for riding his bike into traffic without looking. 

We proved that Chris was killed because the crosswalk was essentially invisible to oncomingChandler Family motorists and that Caltrans should never have installed it.  On Monday, a jury awarded Chris’ family $9.5 million, holding the California Department of Transportation 90% at fault for Chris’ death, and finding Chris blameless. 

Marked crosswalks in uncontrolled intersections give pedestrians a false sense of security -- pedestrians believe that vehicles will yield to them in the crosswalk when, in fact, the drivers of the vehicles may be unable to see the pedestrians due to surrounding traffic  . . . Caltrans was aware of studies discouraging the marking of crosswalks in busy uncontrolled intersections and was aware of accidents elsewhere along El Camino. . .

According to Caltrans’ witnesses, there are 28 other crosswalks on El Camino in San Mateo county that are just like the one where Chandler was killed.  Caltrans knows that they are all dangerous but, as a matter of policy, won’t fix any particular crosswalk until it learns of at least three people who are killed or injured at the intersection in question.  Although there had been numerous accidents where Chandler was killed, the statistics never made it into Caltrans database.

Local authorities all along El Camino have pleaded with Caltrans to fix the crosswalks, but Caltrans refuses to act.  We’re hoping that Caltrans will hear the jury’s message and fix the crosswalks now before someone else is killed.

 

Study - Safety Effects of Marked Versus Unmarked - 2005 by mikedanko on Scribd

Cal Fire Determines PG&E Power Line Cause of Butte Fire

Today Cal Fire issued a news release.  Cal Fire investigators determine the cause of the destructive Butte Fire was the PG&E power line.  Cal Fire will file a lawsuit against PG&E to recover over $90 million for firefighting costs.

Property owners and renters in the Butte Fire area are working with attorneys to calculate the damages to their property.  Potential damages include: loss of use, loss of enjoyment, loss of value, and destruction of homes, trees and fences.  More victims of the Butte Fire join the lawsuits every day.

Coincidence? Or Something More?

In February 2015, tree cutters working for PG&E were supposed to remove trees from a grove that threatened power lines.  But they left standing a tree in the middle of that grove – a 44-foot tall grey pine that had a diameter of about 5 inches at the base that was leaning toward the lines. Over the following months, the tree leaned further and further until, on September 9, 2015,  it made contact with one of the lines and sparked the disastrous Butte Fire.  

The tree itself was not burned in the fire. CalFire crews cut it down, sectioned it into 6 pieces, and have stored it, along with the wire it contacted, in an evidence locker at CalFire’s headquarters.  

On a misty morning on February 17, 2016, experts, PG&E's lawyers and insurers, and the Butte Trial Lawyers were allowed to view,scorched tip photograph, and weigh the tree. Nobody was really sure why the tree was being weighed five months after the fire, but that’s what PG&E’s insurance companies wanted to do.  The photo to the right shows the scorched tip of the tree where it came in contact with the wire.

While the wire was being inspected and photographed under a microscope, a huge gust of wind scattered a stack of coolers

Tree falls onto wires during inspectionacross the parking lot. Then there was a loud “boom" and the lights went out. One of the experts, an electrical engineer, immediately identified the noise as a power line circuit breaker blowing.

Several lawyers and experts walked down the driveway to the CalFire headquarters to the road. About 150 feet up the road, this is what they saw – a tree that had blown down onto a power line and shorted it out. PG&E’s chief lawyer was on the phone immediately to PG&E to send a crew. It only took them 45 minutes to show up. Meanwhile, the  tree started smoking! 

All this time PG&E has been claiming it has taken adequate steps to trim trees so as to protect its power lines.  And then this, with PG&E's lawyers and insurers all as witnesses.  So you decide: Coincidence or something more?

-Dario DeGhetaldi

 

Environmental Damages Quantified

Consultants and paid experts are now working to evaluate the environmental damages that the Butte fire caused. Some of the aspects of the loss they are looking into:

Cost of Clean Up: Wholly apart for reasons of aesthetics, all properties must be cleaned up. An owner may not be too concerned about felled timber left on a remote corner of his or her property, but the timber is hazardous as fuel for further wildfires and bug infestation.

Cost of a Comprehensive, Long Term Weed Abatement Program: Without a weed abatement program, invasive species will take hold and destroy the area’s biodiversity.

Cost of Timber Destroyed: Timber that has been destroyed must be inventoried, either by boots-on-the-ground survey or by the study of high-resolution satellite imagery. The timber’s pre-fire market value must then be determined.

Cost of Reforestation: Plans for reforesting the properties must include provisions for caring for the newly planted vegetation until the vegetation becomes self-sustaining. Plans must take into account whether the property was commercial or residential.

Cost of replacing Heritage or Landscaping Trees: Trees that provided shade, privacy, or had special aesthetic value must be identified and valued on an individual basis.

Erosion Control Plans: Engineers need to locate the areas most subject to the risk of erosion, develop an individualized plan for mitigation of each such risk, and then determine the associated costs. They will also look at structures and roads.

The work is ongoing. The experts won’t be able to draw conclusions concerning whether certain fire-damaged trees will survive and whether certain properties are at risk of damage from erosion until late spring, at the earliest.

Butte Fire Cases to be Coordinated

What documents must PG&E turn over to the lawyers for the fire victims? Which PG&E employees will be required to appear and answer questions under oath, and when? What scientific tests may plaintiffs’ experts perform on the evidence found at the fire’s origin?

These are the types of questions that a judge must decide as the lawyers get their cases ready for trial. Sometimes, these decisions end up being the most important ones a judge makes. But here, some of the lawsuits were filed in the Calaveras County court, and some were filed by the Butte Fire Lawyers in San Francisco County court. The judges in the two different counties could disagree on how these important questions should be decided. So the Calaveras judge ruled that all the decisions leading up to the trials should be made by a single judge, regardless of where the cases were filed. He decided Sacramento is a convenient place for all the attorneys and witnesses, and that the Sacramento court system was best able to handle all the paperwork involved in the pre-trial process without overwhelming the court staff.

It’s now up to the chief judge in Sacramento to assign one of that court’s judges to be the “Coordination Judge.” The Coordination Judge will make all the pre-trial decisions that will guide the preparation of cases. We expect the Coordination Judge to be named within the next few weeks. Once that happens, the Coordination judge will meet with all the attorneys for all the cases – both those filed in Calaveras and in San Francisco – to agree on a schedule for moving the cases forward. Where the cases will be tried remains to be seen.

 

Butte Fire Hazmat Update

Are you suspicious about the workers asking to enter your property? Do you have concerns that someone may be posing as an agent of CalRecyle?

As the hazardous materials debris removal process moves along, some property owners question the legitimacy of contractors who are contacting them about further work on their property. Applying the wise adage “Better safe than sorry”, it’s smart to watch out for scam operations. If you have concerns about whether a contractor is an agent of CalRecycle, simply call the Butte Fire Operations Center 209-584-4347 and ask them to confirm the identity of the contact.

As of February 19, 2016, the CalRecycle crews have cleared 611 of the 819 identified properties. The 31 task forces are spread throughout the fire area. Of the cleared properties, the majority are in the final three stages of removal: soil assessment sampling, erosion control and County environmental health approval.
 

PG&E Debris Removal Program: Cleaning up Victims' Properties or PG&E's Image?

Butte Fire victims are just now getting a letter from PG&E offering to clean up some of the woody debris left from the fire.  Sounds good, but is it really?  Here are some of the concerns: 

  • No details.  We’ve been asking PG&E since October to let us see the forms they want the residents to sign before getting the work done.  It still hasn’t shown us.  All we've seen is a “Notice of Work” form.  What’s the big secret?  Why can’t the victims’ attorneys see the documents PG&E wants the victims to sign?
  • Impossibly short opt-in deadline.  Property owners must opt-in by December 31.  That's too short a time frame for owners to obtain advice on what to do.  After all this time, if the offer is legit, what's the rush?
  • Ulterior Motive?  PG&E's form asks the owner to initial and agree to PG&E’s inventory of the number of the trees they remove, as well as the trees' size.  Why? Is PG&E trying to get victims to agree with their count of the dead trees, to use later against the property owners in lawsuits?
  • Double talk.  PG&E’s brochure states that a tree qualifies for removal if, for example, the tree "is reasonably accessible by equipment/machinery".  Does that mean  it will remove all tree debris of any size that is "reasonably accessible by equipment/machinery"? "Reasonable" to whom? And accessible to what type of equipment or machinery?
  • PG&E keeps the value:  PG&E wants to take the trees, but not pay for them.  Rather, PG&E says that the wood it will haul away is to be considered "donated."  PG&E is a billion dollar corporation.  Why does it need the fire victims to donate to it?

While PG&E's public relations team may be trying to boost its good will among the residents of Calveras and Butte County, it may also be trying to limit what it will have to pay property owners going forward.

 

PG&E Debris Removal letter