Berkeley Unified schools will stay open Monday, but 2 could lose power

PG&E has notified Berkeley Unified that John Muir Elementary could be affected by the power shutoff. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

Berkeley Unified plans to keep all schools open Monday, but the district is warning that two elementary schools might be affected by the public safety power shutoff set to start Saturday.

Lights could go out at John Muir and Emerson, both in the Elmwood neighborhood. PG&E has warned that the shutoff could last multiple days, as crews conduct safety inspections on power lines before turning them back on.

“Those schools will be open on Monday, and we are working with teachers and staff there to prepare for the possibility of a power outage,” the district said in a message sent to families Friday afternoon.

BUSD spokeswoman Trish McDermott said PG&E’s address lookup tool shows that most of the district’s schools are not expected to experience a shutoff. A few Berkeley schools don’t even appear in the address finder, inexplicably, she said. To use the online tool, one must enter in an address and then click it when it shows up in a drop-down menu. A few of the school addresses don’t show up at all, let alone with information on whether they’ll be affected by the shutoff or not.


However, the utility notified the district mid-day Friday that John Muir, at 2955 Claremont Ave., might be impacted. While Emerson doesn’t appear on the address finder, McDermott said she was also able to pull up an intersection near the school’s address, 2800 Forest Ave., which indicated that site could be affected as well.

“We treat all of these like potential shutdowns,” McDermott said.

The district is advising John Muir and Emerson to not use any elevators Monday if the campuses have energy, in case power abruptly goes out and traps users. If students at those sites rely on elevators to access their classrooms, those classes will be relocated, McDermott said. The district will also look at how else to serve its “medically fragile students,” she said.

Similar accommodations were made before the shutoff earlier this month, which did not end up affecting any Berkeley Schools. The district also figured out then how to ensure food service continues in all cafeterias.

“We went through this drill about two weeks ago,” McDermott said.

Some district administrators will already be busy Monday, handling the impact from an unofficial Berkeley High teacher strike planned for that day. But McDermott said the so-called “sickout” won’t have an effect on BUSD’s ability to ensure safety at Emerson and John Muir, since different departments handle each matter.

The district is also monitoring air quality forecasts, with winds expected to carry smoke from Sonoma County’s Kincade Fire throughout the Bay Area. All Berkeley schools were closed during Butte County’s Camp Fire last fall.

In total, PG&E’s power shutoff is expected to affect 57,000 homes and businesses throughout Alameda County — 7,000 of which are in Berkeley. Most of UC Berkeley is expected to lose power, but the university hasn’t announced a decision yet about Monday classes and programming.

The National Weather Service has announced a new red flag warning in the East Bay Hills, including parts of Berkeley, from Saturday night through Monday morning, due to “dangerously strong offshore winds and critically low humidity.” A heat advisory is in effect for Berkeley through Friday at 7 p.m. and a wind advisory is in effect from Saturday night into Sunday morning.

The city of Berkeley has also “activated its 24-hour Emergency Operations Center,” according to a new alert, meaning staff from all departments are on board to respond to issues during the shutoff. Police patrols have been increased and the fire department and city are more heavily staffed than usual, the city said. Parking enforcement employees are also working to clear paths for emergency vehicles in the hills, and ask residents to avoid “no parking” zones.

Berkeleyside will report more details on the shutoff as soon as they are available. Sign up for breaking news alerts to get the latest critical information.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said no BUSD schools are listed in PG&E’s address finder. Only a few are missing.