Testimonials and Commentary About Utility Undergrounding

Send us an email if you'd like to weigh in. Commentors have granted permission to publish here.

Phase 1 resident answers questions from Phase 2 resident:

I'm pleased to make a few comments about my experience with Phase 1. I own a house on Ascot near the Ascot/Skyline/Wilton intersection (see attachment). There are 4 underground utility vaults within 100 feet of my driveway. More are in the intersection. The intersection was also used as a staging area. Lots of construction activity.

For the record for 13 years as a planner & development administrator in San Francisco I was heavily involved in a 87-acre downtown project that including utility undergrounding by PG&E & others. My experience with PG&E was mixed.


Project Management: Because of my previous experience I was somewhat apprehensive about management by PG&E. Turned out I had no need to be concerned. One example was a buildup of dust at our intersection. The project manager was called & came out the same day. The next day a large motorized street sweeper was deployed by PG&E & the problem was largely mitigated during the rest of the period of major excavation.

Noise: The equipment was modern & noise was not a serious problem.

Traffic Delays on Ascot: Locals knew about the construction & many took alternate routes. For me there were no long-term delays -- typical delays were less than 5 minutes. Flagmen/women & equipment operators knew they had to keep the traffic moving.

Installation of Underground Vaults: Typically vaults were installed in 2 days. In the first day the holes were excavated. Then steel plates were installed to cover the holes. Next day the vaults were hoisted into place.

Site Maintenance: In general work areas were swept clean & asphalt was placed around any steel plates at the end of each work day. In some cases the work areas were swept several times a day.

General Satisfaction With Construction: Good to very good.

Satisfaction with Time Required to Complete Construction: Complex projects take time. Wish it could have been done faster.

Satisfaction With the Final Product: The undergrounding of utilities made the area safer & much more attractive. In fact, undergrounding was a major, positive transformation of our neighborhood.

Caveat: Some may say I'm being too positive about PG&E. Actually their trim trimmers butchered a large tree in front of my house which ended up being a stump. Nevertheless I found little to criticize on this project. Also, for the record I have no investment in PG&E & don't even know a single PG&E employee.

John B. Dykstra
Post on Nextdoor
Messages re undergrounding have reminded me of a situation from many years ago. During a storm a huge tree on Stockkbridge near Rydal came down, falling uphill across Stockbridge. It took out power lines and its roots pulled up and ruptured a gas line. At first emergency responders said the storm was too severe for them to send out crews. When they were told that gas was escaping and electrical lines were arcing they responded with crews from both OFD and PG&E. We were told that an explosion was probably prevented only because at the time it was raining fiercely. We were without electricity for at least 3 days. We live on Stockbridge. We have voted for under grounding. For us, it is a safety issue. Sherrill Harrison
PPNA answers multiple Nextdoor posts opposing the project

Why some say they're opposed

PPNA response

I can't afford it

Financing will be available; lien passed on to buyers if you decide to sell before it's paid off.  Check with your insurance company to see if your homeowners rate can be reduced by the increased fire safety.

Construction chaos, noise and congestion

Traffic, emergency and other hazard mitigation plans are required and were managed flawlessly in Phase 1. Maximum traffic control wait time is 3 minutes, and rarely did anyone in Phase 1 have to wait that long.

Emergency evacuation would be slowed by construction interference and open trenches

Contingency plans to manage emergencies are required. Having traffic managers on site may well prove beneficial in managing an evacuation

Social justice--if wires bad here, what about the rest of Oakland?

We stepped aside our first place position on Oakland's very long waiting list to allow a project on MacArthur to precede our start of Phase 1. Before that, we stepped aside for the Fire area. Other areas of Oakland populate a very long list and will get their turn if their residents are willing to fund an assessment district to pay the City's share of the project

Why don't utilities pay 100%?

They do pay 100% of their own construction costs. What residents pay is reimbursement to the City for a new street lighting system and administration expenses. This keeps the cost from being spread across the entire tax base.

Outages are now limited to one or two a year. Is the expense worth it?

Such a drastic reduction in outages during one of our stormiest winters is testament to how big an impact Phase 1 alone has had. By the time all three phases are done, we will have far fewer outages and much greater fire safety

Letter to the Editor published in the Montclarion from a Phase 2 resident

(Note: Not edited for accuracy)

Vote NO... I am listing reasons for concern.

If you live in the part of Oakland outlined for Phase 2, you received a letter from the City outlining this project. It seems urgent to open discussion about this project that, if voted on by the majority, will force ALL residents to pay $20-25 thousand dollars out of pocket to the City or be forced to have this amount added to your property taxes over years plus interest.
235 homes are located in Phase 2, at $20-25 thousand we will pay the city between $4,700,000 and $5,875,000. Wow.
Seems to me this is alarming news. So, before you vote please consider some reasons for voting NO.
It is unfair and unjust that a majority of residents can force ALL residents to pay such a large amount of money, out of pocket for this unnecessary proposed project which may adversely affect some residents' financial ability to remain in their homes.
1.  What about the folks who cannot afford this, including elderly retired persons living on a fixed income?
2.  What about  folks who do not want years,(PPNA outlines a 3 year time frame for Phase1), of trucks digging trenches, creating noise and street congestion, and further forcing some to pay $3 thousand to convert electric panels on their property.
Remember all the detours created for getting off the hill in Phase 1?
Phase 2 goes into hilly, steep, narrow side streets, much more difficult to retrench and navigate.
3.  What about less affluent areas of Oakland? If overhead wires are
bad for us, aren't they bad for everyone?
I believe that if a city determines our streets to be dangerous, that city should provide ALL residents with safe streets. Otherwise, where is social justice being honored?  If PGE can afford 85%, why not 100%? Or, the city kicking in the other 15%. Of course, ignoring the more urgent issues in Oakland.
4.  What about the danger involved if a fire/earthquake occurred?
In the big Oakland fire, many died in their cars because of narrow winding congested streets disallowed them to escape. Imagine this compounded by open trenches and large machines.
If the rationale for this project is the danger of electricity going out, keep in mind, this past winter was the worst storm year in decades, only one or two outages. Most of the damage was hillside mudslides, falling trees blocking road passage.
Please consider and make public the serious issues involved and vote NO!
And finally, please attend the meeting to discuss this on Wednesday, July 12 at 3594 Sanborn Ave.,  Joaquin Miller Community Center
 94619 from 6:30-8:30.
JoAnn DePetro, Oakland