Santa Rosa restaurant turns to insurance policy for PG&E losses, but no such luck

Betty's Fish N' Chips has been serving its specialty off Highway 12 in Santa Rosa for more than 50 years.

But now the owners say their restaurant has taken a financial hit due to PG&E's decision to cut power for three days to prevent possible wildfires caused by charged power lines.

"It's hard when you are small to take on that kind of loss," said restaurant co-owner Susan Corso.

The restaurant said without refrigeration it had to throw out some 400 pounds of fish, and estimates it lost $10,000-$12,000 in lost food and customers.

The utility company has already said it would't pay for business losses. So the restaurant turned to its insurance company. The insurance company responded Wednesday by saying it won't pay either.

The Insurance Information Institute, a trade organization paid for by insurance companies, said policies don't cover planned blackouts, such as the one last week.

"Insurance is really for accidental losses. Fires, earthquakes, losses like that. A planned power outage is not an accidental loss," said Janet Ruiz, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute.

The organization suggests businesses look into buying generators which can be a tax write-off.

"We looked into it. It's a minimum of $50,000 just to buy a generator and get it installed by an electrical contractor," said Corso.

Business losses statewide are estimated at $2.5 billion. Governor Gavin Newsom is suggesting PG&E credit residential customers $100 and businesses $250.

Few communities understand the devastation wildfires can bring more than Santa Rosa. But the owners at Betty's said unlike two years ago, when winds exceeded 50 miles an hour, there was little wind there last week.

They also said if other small businesses have to endure blackouts several times a year, some may not survive financially.

"They say this is the new norm. It can get very expensive for small businesses. It's not okay," said Corso.

The owners are considering taking PG&E to small claims court. If they win, they could get a maximum of $5,000. They say if enough businesses do that, it just might get PG&E's attention.