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California Wildfire Victims Face Crucial Vote In PG&E Settlement

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Californians face a deadline to finish voting tomorrow. Fire survivors have a chance to vote yes or no to a compensation deal with Pacific Gas and Electric. The bankrupt utility faces blame for equipment that sparked fires in 2018. Here's Lily Jamali of our member station KQED.

LILY JAMALI, BYLINE: In November of 2018, Jeanie Webb (ph) lost her dog and her house in Paradise in the Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings. She's one of thousands who are voting yes on a $13.5 billion compensation deal that PG&E brokered in December with lawyers for victims like her.

JEANIE WEBB: I felt like it was better to get what you can while the offer's on the table than to wait for something that may never come.

JAMALI: The vote's been going on for almost six weeks, but Webb only voted this past weekend. At first, her attorneys told her to wait because PG&E balked at guaranteeing when it would pay the money. That's still unresolved. In a statement, PG&E said it encourages everyone to vote, adding it's working to get its bankruptcy exit plan approved soon so victims will be paid fairly and quickly. Meanwhile, COVID-19 is complicating the settlement, half of which will come as PG&E stock. With markets in turmoil, analysts say it's possible that $13.5 billion deal may be worth as much as $2 billion less. Another concern is that some victims have not yet received ballots. PG&E has argued that's due to mail delays because of COVID-19. With so much uncertainty, fire survivor William Abrams (ph) has been lobbying the bankruptcy judge for more time to vote.

WILLIAM ABRAMS: Making sure that there is transparency and making sure that victims are aware of the implications of their vote is extremely important.

JAMALI: Unless that extension comes, survivors have until Friday afternoon to cast their ballots. For NPR News, I'm Lily Jamali in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.