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Above ground or below? The fight over utility boxes comes to Green Acres

Original post made on Sep 13, 2019

Utility wires may be out of sight in the Green Acres I, where they are tucked away in underground vaults, but they are hardly out of mind for the residents in the quiet south Palo Alto neighborhood.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, September 13, 2019, 6:50 AM

Comments (12)

15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2019 at 8:42 am

This has to be a con.

For the rest of us, we lose power due to mylar balloons, seagulls, squirrels, birds, geese, falling limbs, tree branches, etc. When we lose power utilities have to send out crews in all weathers and all times of day and night, to make repairs. Every time we have a storm, utilities workers are on call and probably getting overtime. Then of course there is the routine tree trimming that has to be done. Even this week, PA Utilities tweeted of an outage on Alma and Meadow due to a bird, and this was not worthy enough news for PA Weekly to report. A power outage is such an every day occurrence that it is no longer newsworthy. Recently the goose who flew into a powerline had its picture all over the internet.

We are the center of Silicon Valley and we are subject to losing power due to wildlife touching powerlines. Even third world countries have more reliable power supplies!

We need to get more powerlines underground. It is costing us real money when we can't depend on our home power supplies. Many people working from home need reliable power to have conference calls with business contacts in other countries or to download products for international deadlines.

No excuses.


7 people like this
Posted by BobH
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 13, 2019 at 11:21 am

BobH is a registered user.

If it wasn't clear, this is not about if power lines should be underground, it is about should the transformers also be underground or on pads above ground. My understanding is that it's a lot more expensive to have the transformers underground and they are less reliable. They have to be in vaults and when it rains a lot, they fill up with water.

I live in a neighborhood where the power lines are above ground. If the folks in green acres get their way, it's going to further delay moving the power lines underground in the neighborhoods where they are not underground today. Not a good tradeoff in my view.


27 people like this
Posted by midtown senior
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2019 at 11:33 am

midtown senior is a registered user.

Don't we "south of the border" Palo Alto homeowners deserve the same underground power lines as those "north of the Oregon Expressway border?" WE all pay the same rates, but are not treated to the same facilities.
South of the border power lines look like those in a third world country.


6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 13, 2019 at 11:54 am

I’m on the “north side” and there’s powerlines all over my neighborhood.


5 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2019 at 4:45 pm

The former city commissioner Judith Schwartz is quoted in this article saying the debate is not about whether equipment should or could be underground but whether neighborhoods "get to dictate to the utilities how to do it."

Yet another a City Hall person thinking government employees always know better than:
-local voters
-contracts between a neighborhood and the the City such as Green Acres I's contract with the City to keep its utilities underground, or
-the historically significant CC&Rs at the neighborhood around North and Southampton, a local first to underground utility lines for aesthetic and safety reasons.

Allow this Green Acres "must-be" above ground transformer boxes on only a "small few impacted families" I hear City Hall people arguing and next thing we know, another technology will come along "requiring" the City to grab more private land or airspace impacting other neighbors. Chipping away piecemeal to "condition" the people-sheep to do what the dictator-wolf wants. Works every time, no?

At this rate, every Palo Alto home will have a humming transformer, cell box on a high pole, Big Eye surveillance sensors, and Big Voice 2-way sound system on their own private land or a neighbor's next door. Get ready for the patchwork of beta test humming boxes to service all those boxes and also those to manage the self-driving cars, delivery trucks, social credit/homeland security surveillance unless a majority of Palo Alto neighbors say, "NO!" loud now.


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2019 at 9:10 am

"Don't we "south of the border" Palo Alto homeowners deserve the same underground power lines as those "north of the Oregon Expressway border?" WE all pay the same rates, but are not treated to the same facilities."

There are above ground lines all over Old Palo Alto.

"South of the border power lines look like those in a third world country."

Sounds like a personal problem, not a utilities issue.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2019 at 10:50 am

Unfortunately, the article is long on anecdotes and short on data -- cost comparisons, how much per household per month the underground configuration costs amortized over its lifetime. We all are paying for this-- maybe we all would like the entire city to have underground utilities -- how much would it add to our monthly bills? (OBTW, why don't vaults have battery-backup-operated sump pumps to keep them pumped out during flooding?)

(High-density) office/industrial parks use underground utilities and vaults, so, at larger scales, it obviously is superior. At what (low) density does the underground configuration become cost-prohibitive? We don't have the data to understand the trade-offs.


9 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2019 at 2:59 pm

Seems like most posters did not even read the story.

The power lines will be underground. That is not in question.
The transformers will be on a pad on the ground (in a box on the ground). Putting the transformer underground is a servicing and failure problem.

The article is about the residents objecting to the transformer boxes.

The residents are being unreasonable and conflating the issue to confuse the community (as evidenced by the irate posters complaining about telephone poles and discrimination.)


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2019 at 5:27 pm

Today there is another power outage in Palo Alto, this time caused by a balloon in powerlines.


1 person likes this
Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2019 at 8:49 am

DTN Paul is a registered user.

So a neighborhood paid just $43K nearly 50 years ago, and they believe they are entitled to underground facilities paid for and maintained by everyone else in perpetuity, lest they be struck by an "aesthetically devastating" situation, for which the only recourse for them is to sue the city, thus costing us even more money?

It's almost comical in its unreasonableness.


1 person likes this
Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2019 at 8:56 am

DTN Paul is a registered user.

Just for fun, I would just like to reflect on the words "aesthetically devastating" for a moment.

It's like Ning Mosberger-Tan wanted to say "devastating" by itself, but then realized that using the word for something this trivial would be an insult to people, say in the Bahamas, who actually do suffer devastating events. So he appended a qualifier - "aesthetically." This is both a smart and funny choice, though, because as we all know, aesthetics are subjective, so the combination becomes potentially true, (he may indeed find these transformers, which we all have already), but also borderline nonsensical.

I love it, and am going to start using this phrase in my daily life.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2019 at 9:42 am

Posted by DTN Paul, a resident of Downtown North

>> So a neighborhood paid just $43K nearly 50 years ago, and they believe they are entitled to underground facilities paid for and maintained by everyone else in perpetuity,

I'm still not clear why we -all- don't have underground facilities by now. 40 years ago or whenever it was, that was the plan. Without clear cost data, I see no justification for why the Utilities department shouldn't maintain what they have now.


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