Guest opinion: Shedding light on the disagreement between PG&E and the California Station HOA | News | Mountain View Online |


Guest opinion: Shedding light on the disagreement between PG&E and the California Station HOA


I'm writing about the article in last week's edition of the Voice entitled "HOA dispute leaves new school in the dark" about efforts by PG&E to provide electric power to the new Vargas Elementary school.

The article refers to a "protracted dispute" between PG&E and the California Station Homeowners Association (HOA), and suggests that the homeowners association is not acting in good faith to provide the necessary easement to PG&E as quickly as possible. I am a longtime resident of California Station. Many of my neighbors were troubled by the article and suggested that I write a letter to the Voice presenting our view of the situation.

I first want to point out that the California Station HOA was not consulted at the time the decision was made to run the electrical lines for the new school through our property. Our HOA was contacted by the school district for the first time this past June — just seven weeks before school was scheduled to start — and informed that the new power supply lines ran through our property, and therefore we needed to provide an easement to PG&E to install and maintain those lines.

Since that time, our HOA board has been working with PG&E to complete the necessary easement. Because the HOA board has a fiduciary duty to protect HOA assets, the HOA board had certain questions that needed to be answered. For example, PG&E didn't specify what they wanted to build on HOA property. Further, PG&E requested unlimited access to HOA property, to build whatever they wanted at any time, without any requirement to notify the HOA prior to starting work. The HOA board has submitted several draft easements to PG&E. So far, all of them have been rejected without comment. This has been perplexing and frustrating, since PG&E seems to be violating precedent they themselves set when they needed access to our HOA property to complete projects in the past. In spite of PG&E's reluctance to work constructively with our board, our board members have been proactive and responsive in an effort to complete the easement as quickly as possible.

Secondly, in hindsight, given that the new school has been planned for more than three years, it would have been helpful to start the easement process earlier to provide time to complete the easement well before the school opening date. Again, our HOA was not aware an easement was required until June. If we had been aware sooner, we would've started working with PG&E sooner to avoid a last-minute fire drill.

In conclusion, the residents of California Station want the community to know that we support our local schools and students. We did not sign on to be involved with the power supply for the new school, but we're happy to do our part. Our HOA board members, and our entire community, look forward to completing the easement as soon as possible so the new school can get power and we can all move on with our lives.

Jim Pollart is a longtime California Station resident.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


22 people like this
Posted by Andy
a resident of Shoreline West
on Aug 25, 2019 at 10:50 am

This is clearly the district's fault for not doing due diligence.
I wonder why the old CBO is no longer with the district.

3 people like this
Posted by The Business Man
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 25, 2019 at 2:42 pm

The Business Man is a registered user.

Here is my set of questions:

Where was the HOA during the "precise" planning of this project?

Where was the City Council regarding approving the PG&E requirement of having unlimitied permissions on this land?

Isn't te staffv of the HOA keeping up to date regarding any projects that can impact them?

Why weren't they participating in the planning process?

It almost appears they did not participate in any way regarding the city planning process. Whose fault was that?

Just asking.

6 people like this
Posted by Frank Smith
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 25, 2019 at 4:36 pm

Eminent domain means that we don't need to cater to the HOA's whims.

1 person likes this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 25, 2019 at 5:17 pm

Gary is a registered user.

Evidently the guest writer (Mr. Pollart) is reporting that PG&E has a broad easement but has not agreed to restrictions proposed by the HOA. Is that it? The refers to "new power lines" on the property. If there are already new power lines, what is the big issue? What is the next step?

7 people like this
Posted by AboutThatEminentDomain
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 25, 2019 at 5:41 pm

For everyone yelling"eminent domain", you do realize this requires the government to give fair market value to the impacted homeowner, right?

1 person likes this
Posted by SRB
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Aug 25, 2019 at 6:59 pm

Aren't utilities underground at California Station? If so, what's the big deal with PG&E connecting the school to an underground power line on the other side of the road?

19 people like this
Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Aug 25, 2019 at 9:45 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

Better questions: Why doesn't the school district just run the power lines over its own property at Slater School rather than having PG&E connect across North Whisman Road? It appears the issue is really that the entire neighborhood is low on capacity to service the potential demand from the new MVWSD facility, which must be considerable.

Possibility #1: What PG&E wants is carte blanche to run an overhead set of high voltage power lines over the heads of Whisman Station. A series of new poles will feeding a new 12,000 volt step down transformer which is to be installed above ground next to the termination of the series new power poles on HOA land nearest to Vargas in order to increase not just the Vargas School capacity but that of the entire area. It extends the current limited easement which benefits Whisman Station by providing only its own service entry on the other side of the community. In order to do this there is a swath of new easement cutting across the entire development and culminating in a large new transformer ugly and noisy above ground as an entrance to Whisman Station. I.e. it's very disruptive and massively ugly. Dare we rule out the idea that there will be towers installed?

Possibility #2: There's already a 12kv feed to the location but PG&E needs an easement to develop a 12kv transformer underground vault, out of sight, below the land owned by the HOA. There's a lot of digging involved and issues of drainage and so forth, rearranging the landscaping owned by the HOA (at whose expense) and its associated irrigation. Once installed the 12kv transformer will be unobtrusive but PG&E holds the right to expand it further as needed to further increase capacity in the neighborhood, including expanding the footprint of the vault.
Possibility #2.

But the issue is, PG&E isn't providing enough information to enable the HOA to judge what their scheme is.

14 people like this
Posted by Pisaab Badmaashi
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 26, 2019 at 2:42 pm

There seems to be some incredibly poor planning involved here. Related, how can it be that PG&E, the owner of the grid, cannot find a connection on it's own powergrid? That is hard to fathom, but then again it is PG&E.

It also seems like the school Super and Board weren't asking the right questions. In all reality how do you end up waiting until a few weeks before the school session begins to rigure out that the school needs electricity?

Odd all around

8 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 26, 2019 at 3:27 pm

I was on an earlier MVWSD Board, and I have a real technical bent for asking questions. BUT, I leave the minute details of Prado Charts on construction projects (minute timing and project coordination) to the hired facilities Project MANAGEMENT COMPANY. GreyStar it seems - totally blew the timing/planning on this. (In My Opinion)

I do not expect the CFOs to manage down at this planning level, and certainly NOT the Superintendent or the Board! Jim Pollard has been a construction/development manager. For decades and multi-tens (or hundreds) of millions of dollas projects. I'm sure - he could have done a bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece, month-by-month 'failure analysis' of this problem. BUT he does not own the problem. The MVWSD's facilities project management contractor does (IMO).

4 people like this
Posted by Strange
a resident of Monta Loma
on Aug 26, 2019 at 9:12 pm

I don't trust PG&E farther than I could throw one of their trucks, which isn't far at all. I hope the HOA continues to push for a fair agreement and doesn't let PG&E or the school district bully them into something with long term consequences.

Like this comment
Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Aug 26, 2019 at 9:49 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

You can bet they changed plans. Probably at the outset the thought was to share the switchgear at Slater for the new buildings. Then at some point they switched gears and decided the new school needed its own direct electrical feed. This would account for the lack of preplanning. Normally PG&E requires several months of advance notice to provide a newly built electrical feed for a project. It's not something they ever do on just 2 months notice. Now maybe the project did make a request to PG&E for the new hookup 6 months or more ago, and PG&E didn't engineer it until the last minute. But it's unusual to place equipment for a new facility across the street on someone else's property. Usually the property has to house its own main step down transformer and switch gear. There is a lot left out of the details of this request to the HOA. Perhaps the Vargas property does hold a 5000 volt transformer and this new need is for a 12,000 volt to 5,000 volt transformer for the general area, not just the one installation. Details.

Another possibility is that all of this run around is to just avoid disturbing the Google Daycare at Slater with the installation of electrical equipment for Vargas....

8 people like this
Posted by Rossta
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 26, 2019 at 10:15 pm

Rossta is a registered user.

Hey HOA, you deserve credit for being proactive on this. The HOA has nothing to gain in granting an easement - not sure why anyone thinks they have been negligent.
MVWSD needs the power and proper design would have looked into where they would get that power and if easements were needed.
PG&E needs to supply the power and they should be actively engaged and commenting on these rejected proposals from the HOA.

It appears the PGE is trying to use this to force a much more broad easement for them to solve problems beyond just getting power to the school and the school is a pawn they are sacrificing. Shameful, but not surprising.

It's not clear that this would be a case for eminent domain, but even if it were, that should be a last resort - taking someone's property by force isn't nice.

Like this comment
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 27, 2019 at 11:35 am

contractor = Greystone West / Mr. Pollart / was also a citizen member of the high schools (MVLA) last Facilities Bond Oversight Comm. I had several occasions to sit down and talk at length to the MVLA's last Chief Financial Officer - who had extensive construction project management experience until he moved into school finance. (FYI comparing other organizations to your own is a best practice for directors / "benchmarking" it is called)

The former finance chief at MVLA made it very clear, his Oversight Comm. was not a rubber stamp (I do not think Jim P. would have served if it was :) I was told that Mr. Pollart provided very valuable insight and advice (through the official Bond Committee) on how to best organize some of the project, and therefore save taxpayers money, students & teachers from disruption, and help make things go very smoothly. Most districts, like MVWSD, have an oversight committee (no construction management professionals) that is really not much more than a rubber stamp.

SN was a past Trustee of the MVWSD

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Los Altos's State of Mind opening NYC-inspired pizza shop in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 16 comments | 8,269 views

Flying: How much is enough? It's personal.
By Sherry Listgarten | 12 comments | 2,805 views

Wait, wait – we’re working on it
By Diana Diamond | 18 comments | 2,457 views

My Pet Peeves
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 7 comments | 1,910 views

Premarital and Couples: Here Be Dragons!
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,097 views


Short story writers wanted!

The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 27, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category.

View Details