On the morning of Thanksgiving Day 2021, Mountain View resident Susan Tighe was gearing up to host a 10-person dinner. The table was already set – complete with a fall-themed centerpiece and paisley printed cloth napkins neatly folded at each table setting – when the power went out on Yorkton Drive.
But this wasn’t a typical power outage, fixed in a matter of hours. Tighe, who’s lived in her home the past 11 years, knew from experience that when the power goes out on Yorkton Drive, it’s likely not coming back on any time soon.
“The outages are relatively infrequent, in that there might be months in between,” Tighe said. “But when the outages happen, they are very long in length.”
The power didn’t end up coming back on until two days later, on Saturday. By then, Tighe said, at least $500 of food she had in her refrigerator had spoiled. She and her family had to scramble and find a new location to host Thanksgiving dinner.
Residents on Yorkton Drive say these lengthy outages were, in the past, a roughly once-a-year occurrence. But during the pandemic, it started happening more and more frequently. Yorkton Drive resident Jeff Treuhaft, who’s lived in the neighborhood for more than 25 years, said that since the pandemic hit, there have been at least seven outages on his street. He said there's also been some power outages on surrounding streets, like Chesley and Levin avenues.
“Since our neighborhood’s power cables are underground, every time something like this happens, they have to spend as much as a day or more locating the problem, and then there's another day digging it out,” Treuhaft said of PG&E crews. “They’ve basically only been replacing three- or four-foot sections of the cable every time, as opposed to just recognizing (that) this is an ongoing issue. … We just need to replace the cable.”
According to PG&E spokesperson Mayra Tostado, PG&E determined that the issue stems from an underground conductor on a cable on Yorkton Drive that has "failed on multiple occasions."
"This type of failure can occur with underground or overhead electric systems," Tostado said.
After the outage last year, PG&E officials said a longer term solution was coming soon. Tostado told the Voice at the time that the public utility company was working to obtain permits from the city to replace the underground cables that serve Yorkton Drive and surrounding streets.
“We had been told after the Thanksgiving debacle last year that spring or summer (2022) was the timeline for PG&E to start these repairs,” Tighe said.
But flash forward more than a year later, and nothing has been replaced yet, the residents say.
“We’re being told that the biggest delay is there were two homeowners not on our street, somewhere in the immediate area in our neighborhood, whose property they needed to cross, and they needed to obtain easements in order to do the appropriate upgrades and repairs which would impact our street,” Tighe said.
According to Tostado, PG&E was unable to obtain the easements needed to complete the cable replacement as originally proposed. The project was redesigned with an “expanded scope,” including different easements that the utility company was able to obtain.
Earlier this month, Mountain View city staff issued a revised excavation permit to PG&E, which will allow the company to get additional pothole data needed for the new design, city Chief Communications Officer Lenka Wright told the Voice.
“City staff also provided comments on the preliminary PG&E plans to help expedite the permit process when PG&E submits the final plans,” Wright added.
Tostado said that after PG&E obtains the borehole data, submits that final plan to the city and receives approval, the company expects construction work to last about two months, “which would result in the project being completed in April 2023, barring unforeseen delays.”
"To improve reliability and fix the issue, PG&E will be replacing the length of conductor," Tostado said.
Resident Treuhaft said he’s hopeful this estimated timeline will pan out, but given the delays the replacement project has faced in the past year, he’s not entirely optimistic.
“What I feel like they can do better is be more consistent in their communication about these things,” he said. “… PG&E is not communicating plans to us, and I think we kind of deserve that, given what we’ve been through and how many outages we’ve had.”
Treuhaft also wishes that PG&E would do more to compensate affected residents for the food they lose every time the power goes out. After Thanksgiving 2021, Treuhaft said, he was asked to submit an itemized expense report of all the food he lost.
“I was like, ‘Wait a minute. I had to go waste gas and run around and get a generator, I had to clean out two fridges, throw out all that food, go replace all that food, figure out how to pull out a Thanksgiving, and you want me to fill out some report, and then you might consider giving me a refund?’” he said. “That doesn’t make me feel good.”
Tighe did go to the trouble of submitting the itemized list, but she said she was only reimbursed for a fraction of the food she lost. She’s worried the outage problem is getting so severe that it might impact her property value.
“Right now, we’re small potatoes, because we’re this one little street,” Tighe said. “But it’s not a problem that’s going to get better on its own. The equipment is going to continue to fail and continue to corrode underground and it’s just going to get worse, and worse.”