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Undergrounding program could short-circuit

Original post made on Jul 24, 2007

Wires stretching from pole to pole -- providing electricity, phone and television service -- can still be found in most Palo Alto neighborhoods, although the city began burying the unsightly lines more than 40 years ago.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, July 24, 2007, 9:47 AM

Comments (20)

Posted by Miffed, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 24, 2007 at 11:22 am

Stop undergrounding - it's an absurd attempt to force aesthetics in the most unhospitable of places (to undergrounding).

Why on earth (pun) are we undergrounding in earthquake country? How much more will it cost to repair/replace damaged cable after a quake, than merely restringing on poles?

Use the money we spend on undergrounding for stuff we need, today.

What's the COST benefit of undergrounding. Please, someone tell me.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2007 at 11:55 am

The answer to Miffed is the cost of keeping them above ground. Every winter storm throws out power because of downed lines. Falling trees are the main culprit, but any small branch falling from a tree can do it. Power outages and the round the clock costs of repairing them are tremendous. Apart from that, the utilities keep paying tree trimmers to continually trim trees that are around power lines. These trees then become the most odd shaped tree and more susceptible to falling because they are so badly balanced, therefore creating more problems when they fall.

It is not aesthetics that makes it more sensible to have underground cables, it is common sense.


Posted by Miffed, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 24, 2007 at 3:45 pm

Resident, what happens after an earthquake? What's the cost and time involved to repair underground cable? Please include TOTAL LIKELY COST in case we have an earthquake of large magnitude, which is projected.


Posted by Former Employee of the Electric Department, a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2007 at 6:20 pm

When I started working for the Electical Department some 30+ years ago it was a requirement that ALL "new construction" would be underground, commercial or residential, and there was a flat fee for such connections. After new managers came in they decided it was not cost effective for the "City" to pay for such "extravagent" costs, although these cost were split beteen the CATV and Phone company providers at the time. The original plan when I started work with the City was to have ALL Overhead Utilities underground by approx. 2005, well that didn't happen, and it's not going to happen. Learn to live with your poles, wires, outages and of course your lovely trees............Remember, your a "Palo Alto Resident"....Enjoy IT!
By the way Earthquake Worrier...........the underground facilities will sustain an earthquake much better then some wires 50' in the air, you do the math..............

Aloha :?)


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 24, 2007 at 7:27 pm

Properly maintained above ground facilities do quite well. Trees don't just jump up over night. I think power lines are beautiful, a symbol of what seperates us from the animals.


Posted by HeavyPole, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 24, 2007 at 8:04 pm

Underground utilities are much more rugged than those strung from poles. Most of the poles in Midtown are supporting the maximum load they can carry, mostly from phone lines and TV cables. Some of them are leaning precariously, and they require constant inspection for rot and insect damage. The recent light rain caused power outages in some areas becuase the dirt on the insulators combined with a bit of water to conduct electricity and short things out. A heavier rain would have washed them clean, but this was just enough water to cause trouble. Underground utilites are free from this problem, and free from problems due to windstorms, encroaching branches, mylar balooons, etc. It is expensive in the short run, but saves on maintenance in the long run.


Posted by bruce, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 24, 2007 at 9:58 pm

Most of north Palo Alto has had their utilities put underground over the past 30 years. An effort was made 2 or 3 years ago to underground a section of the city somewhere south of Oregon Ave. I believe the cost to connect for each home owner was close to $10,000. After a loud outcry from the affected residents, I think the city has given up on completing the city wide task due to the cost.


Posted by disappointed, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 24, 2007 at 10:26 pm

Burying utilities stopped a block from my house, and I'm sad about it. Overhead wires are like something out of Buster Keaton: ugly and archaic. The Europeans buried all their utilities long ago (and now are on to widespread, high-speed networks and more "next new things"). Why should we live with a third-world infrastructural blight? Isn't this supposed to be the high tech capital of the world?


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 25, 2007 at 7:18 am

How about underground transformer explosions?
How much pole line upgrading would the undergrounding budget pay for? I am in favor of requiring all costs above overhead wiring be added to underground disrict rates.


Posted by Pete, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 25, 2007 at 9:56 am

Actually, underground utilities are much less expensive to maintain and longer lasting than over-head wires. The problem for the city is that they require a heavy upfront capital expenditure.

Like most democratic governments, Palo Alto's is focused on the short time to the next election. So while it would be much less costly over the long run for the city to underground its utilities, the cost would be borne in the short run.

Much the same is true of other infrastructure in the city. Our streets keep getting bandaid repairs when what they need is good maintenance which is more expensive. As a result, our streets deteriorate faster...but the cost for replacement will be pushed on to some future tax payers.

We used to have a public spirit and leadership willing to make short term sacrifice for long term gain. No more.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2007 at 11:25 am

I am in agreement with disappointed. I feel that this city is vastly becoming left behind technologically speaking. From the ugly overhead wires to the state of iffy cell phone coverage to the availability of norms like internet cafes, this place is going to be the left behind area of Silicon Valley.

My internet was down a couple of weeks ago and I thought the library would be the place to go. Without a long line I only had 15 minutes to use their service and then the placed closed at 6.00 so I couldn't come back later. I don't expect libraries to take up the slack, but it occurred to me that we need a few internet cafes where we could go and buy service for an hour or so.

This is just one example of how we are being left behind. The more I travel abroad and speak to family overseas, the more things I find that are just way ahead of what we have here.


Posted by Nonsense, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 25, 2007 at 5:16 pm

Only in Palo Alto residents discuss whether undergrounding is better or aboveground. Most of new construction and most of USA has adopted underground cables.....

Please.. Please ... Please let me say this:-

Stupid Palo Altans...


Posted by Millie, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 25, 2007 at 5:44 pm

the arguments for undergrounding seem to make sense, but the cost? forget it?


Posted by Bern Beecham, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2007 at 6:27 pm

Here's some background information on undergrounding our utilities lines.

The first resource is the agenda page for the Utilities Advisory Commission that discussed undergrounding on June 6. From this referenced page, you can select the UAC's June 6 report, "Update on Undergrounding of Electric Utilities," and its attachments.
Web Link

The second resource is a bit older and includes a set of FAQ's on undergrounding:
Web Link

Bern Beecham


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2007 at 1:15 pm

Anyone so silly that the sight of utilitarian aparati of service upsets them should consider not going outside at all. Besides, where would the poor tired birds sit?


Posted by understandably curious, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2007 at 5:07 pm

Is there really a Mr. Wallis, or is he a Silence Dogood?


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2007 at 5:23 pm

There really is a Walter_E_Wallis, with half a century in electrical and mechanical engineering. As an added lagniappe I was born in a house that belonged to the electric company my dad worked for and am also a journeyman Electrician. I am definitely not silent.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 27, 2007 at 6:57 pm

Thank you Bern for directing us to the Utility Commission minutes concerning undergrounding utilities. It was sparse but did note that a policy recommendation concerning cost sharing with AT&T and others would be made in the future after further studies.

The FAQ page (2nd web link) was very helpful - and frightening if the dollar figures are correct. The map was made in 2000. So the $3,000 to $8,000 cost to the homeowner will only go up.

If I understood the figures correctly, the $3,000 to $8,000 estimate was for General Public Interest and Benefit installations only. For installations of either Local Public Benefit or Insufficient Public Benefit the homeowner pays more than the above quoted figures.

I'm glad to see that homeowners can protest inclusion into a district.


Posted by Retired, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 28, 2007 at 7:15 pm

I am totally against undergrounding. My neighborhood has no nearby commercial entity so we would have to pay at the most expensive rate for undergrounding. Since it will be necessary to jack hammer up a pathway at the side of my house then tear up the ivy in my front yard, the extras I will have to pay will make this a prohibitively expensive project.

I am now retired on a fixed income and have no way to repay loan, I guess I'll have to go without electricity if they remove it from the polls in my backyard.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 28, 2007 at 7:24 pm

Why don't we just buy eye shades for the sensitive folk so they don't have to look at overhead wires?
For the money they spend undergrounding they could replace all the electric meters with remote reading meters, allowing time of day metering and load shedding benefits.


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