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A big new power undergrounding in the works for North Downtown May 5 Council Meeting

Original post made by Rick on May 5, 2008

For those who question why our electric rates are going up this project is one of the reasons.

Like almost all undergrounding projects this is another one in North Palo Alto. I wonder what infulential person lives in this neighborhood.

If you care how millions of $$ of our electric bill money is spent go to this meeting, Monday, May 5, City Council Chambers starting at 7 PM. A notice was posted several weeks ago about this, in the Palo Alto Weekly I believe. This was a paid notice, box, by the city.

The streets listed are: Palo Alto Ave.,Alma St.,High St. Lytton Ave and Cambridge Ave.

Essentially all of the people who don't have underground power in their neighborhood are paying for this and all of the other projects like this.

Comments (23)

Posted by Walter E. Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 2:34 am

The cost of undergrounding should be born by those in the area undergrounded, not on all customers.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2008 at 3:16 am

Last time they did a large under grounding of utilities, they charged the homeowners up to $6,000 per household. Since they charged these residents in South Palo Alto I can only assume a similar charge will be made for those living in Downtown North.

For those who didn't have the money to pay for the under grounding, the city had a loan program for paying it back over time.




Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 5, 2008 at 10:11 am

Choice of streets for underground wiring might be related to the needs of construction companies for the expansion of Stanford Medical Center by fifty percent. I've been wondering how Stanford was planning to get all those large rigs through Palo Alto.

The major roads through Palo Alto will have difficulty handling the oversize rigs most construction companies use. Traffic on El Camino can be diverted to Alma. Embarcadero Road traffic can use Lytton and Palo Alto Avenue. Cambridge runs along the campus.


Posted by Ada, a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 10:44 am

I am in full favor of undergrounding. The ugly power boxes, ugly poles, ugly cables hanging - hate them! I hate the price tag but I am sure there are solutions to it


Posted by Walter E. Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 11:23 am

Ugly? Visible evidence of man's rise above the animals ugly? Tell someone liberated by electricity from the limitations of kerosine lamps and animal muscles that high voltage distribution lines are ugly.


Posted by T, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2008 at 12:30 pm

Undergrounded utilities are less likely to fail due to exterior forces such as storm damage, squirrels chewing on lines, etc. (Yes, squirrels chewing on lines has been a problem in our neighborhood.) Separate but related to having less failures, there may also be a decrease in longterm maintenance expense. I suppose undergrounded utilites may present less opportunity for terrorism also, but I'm no expert on the subject. So the question is whether or not this convenience is worth the expense. I expect different people will have different opinions.


Posted by Not a Problem, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2008 at 1:16 pm

Carol Mullen: Stanford has done a lot of building over the years. They have always used Highway 280 then down Page Mill and used the back entrance onto the campus for all construction vehicles. I am sure they will use the same routes again when constructing the new hospital.




Posted by k, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2008 at 1:52 pm

Which neighborhoods are scheduled to be undergrounded? Is this public info? Just curious. We have had repeated problems of squirrels chewing through our phone lines, disrupting our phone service (this is the determination of the phone company, which handled it and paid for it since it was external)


Posted by Living in Hopes, a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 3:18 pm

Squirrels chew through our cable and phone lines too. If we can put a man on the moon surely AT&T can manufacture phone lines that are impervious to bushy tailed rats!!!


Posted by Walter E. Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 4:54 pm

The cost of undergrounding is disproportionate to any possible savings in maintenance. One lineperson with a cherry[picker and a ground safety person can restore damaged overhead lines, but damaged underground requires crews and heavy equipment. Overhead lines can carry heavy overloads without the permanent damage such loads would cause underground systems. Palo Alto is going to be forced kicking and screaming to make the changes in metering I urged without success a decade ago. They should do this and build peakers and make cogen contracts. In the meantime they can issue eye shades or blinders to anyone offended by the sight of overhead utilities. Or just get out of a business they seem not to understand.


Posted by Hey, Rick, a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2008 at 9:53 pm

Last I heard Cambridge Avenue wasn't anywhere near downtown.


Posted by Rick, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 5, 2008 at 11:34 pm

I did go to the council meeting tonight, but there were two big issues up for review before the undergrounding project. At 6pm they were discussing the creek flood problem and what to do, I guess. and then the Stanford Hospital and Shopping center issue.

The undergrounding didn't come up until about 10 PM. I left and listened on FM 90.1. Cambridge is in College Terrace area. Don't know how it got in this project.
Only one person spoke on the project. He lives in Monterey ,but owns a number of business properties on Alma so was in favor of the project. In the past he was involved with city affairs and knows former city council/mayors.

A few comments from the City Managers Report:
45 properties of which a small percetage are residential.
Total cost is est.at 2,350,000. ATT and Comcast will reimburse $700,000 est.
Cost to property owners is estimated at $200,000. ($4444 ea).
I guess the rest is to be paid by us rate/util. users.

This project dosen't involve Stanford project in any way.
The Alma St substation relocation involves Stanford and will possibly cost us taxpayers about $10,000,000. Considering everything. This project is apparently going on quietly in the background. Or not in public or in the newspapers.

When Stanford built the hugh underground parking garage in front of the hospital there were long convoys of those giant,tandum earth hauling trucks going down Alma. A few would cut thru Charleston Rd on their way to Hwy 101, illegally and never cited. Many also used El Camino. Trucks aren't allowed on Oregon Expressway (enforced) or on Hwy 280.

The city should be concetrating on undergrounding the large distributions lines first and at the city's cost.Then the backyard lines.
The undergroud lines definityl increase the value of the homes served by them and much more than the few thousand the homeowners have to pay.
Undergrounding of lines has probably been going on for a 100 yrs. All downtown areas have it. Problems are rare if done right. If Palo Alto cant do it right there is something wrong at city hall. New insulating materials should solve any problem of the past. Tree maintaince is a big cost, especially on the primary high voltage lines as most are above big street trees and the trees are topped every few years and look strange. Lightning blows out transformers all the time and can start fires, especially in the hills.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2008 at 12:39 am

What happens when it rains and our storm drains over flow, and our underground water tables rises to the street? Will these affect our utilities, or are they waterproof in some way?


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2008 at 2:43 am

I suspect new arc safety regulations will make working in underground vaults with live equipment illegal. There have been several failures of underground transformers downtown.
Make you a deal, Rick. I will sign on for undergrounding with high temp superconductor cables. Even then, since the reason is primarily cosmetic I do not believe any of the cost should come from the rate base.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2008 at 7:32 am

Rick says: "Cost to property owners is estimated at $200,000 ($4,444 each)". That's too much. The thing I don't like about this undergrounding program as it inches closer to my home, is that property owners must pay their share. This is an unforeseen tax property owners have to pay at some time in the future, and as time goes by the costs go up.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2008 at 8:48 am

If the city was competent they would require, as a part of any sidewalk replacement, the installation of conduits for fuuture power, and signal distribution.


Posted by Becky Trout, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on May 6, 2008 at 2:42 pm

Becky Trout is a registered user.

Hi all, this was buried (ha ha) at the bottom of the Stanford story.

In other business, the council unanimously approved a plan to remove overhead wires and bury utilities in a section of Downtown North and along part of Cambridge Avenue Monday night. The $2.3 million project is expected to remove 45 poles by January 2010.
The city usually focuses on undergrounding utilities in a single area, but it added Cambridge Avenue from El Camino Real to Birch Street to the Downtown North project to address electrical problems that have been plaguing the California Avenue district, according to an e-mail from Assistant Utilities Director Tomm Marshall.
No one protested the project and one property owner spoke in favor of the undergrounding.
The primary targeted area stretches from Lytton Avenue to Palo Alto Avenue along Alma Street, including portions of High Street and El Camino Real.
The city began burying its utilities in 1965 and has completed projects along most major thruways.
AT&T and Comcast will pay about $700,000 for this project, with all property owners paying a total of $200,000, according to a staff report.


Posted by For undergrounding, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2008 at 9:37 pm


Being an immigrant from Europe here, I come from a country where undergrounding was done decades ago... I am not a fan of taxes, but I'll be happy to pay my cost of undergrounding the day it reaches my PA neighborhood (we'll probably be the last ones to be undergrounded but that's a different story). No more power outages due to falling tree limbs during storms. No more hacking of our trees to try and prevent the above problem... No more unsightly power lines and many cables and other devices on poles all over the place.

It's only taking way to long to complete in Palo Alto.


Posted by not in the district, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2008 at 4:12 pm

Here's the staff report and background on the undergrounding.

Web Link


Posted by r-r-right, a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 10, 2008 at 11:06 am

The odd inclusion of Cambridge Avenue in this project has absolutely nothing to do with Jim Baer and the Weekly constructing their new building on Cambridge Avenue.
r-r- right.


Posted by Inside baseball, a resident of Southgate
on May 11, 2008 at 5:49 pm

Interesting coincidence!
And the city council wouldn't dare object to the newspaper's wishes, not to mention Jim Baer's. He owns this town. Inside baseball, for sure.


Posted by Any guts?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2008 at 11:46 am

This budget item is on Monday, May 19th tomorrow's city council agenda.
I wonder whether anyone on the council will have the guts to question
the special treatment for the WEEKLY and Jim Baer.


Posted by Pretty Brazen stuff, a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2008 at 9:02 pm

Or you can listen for the "justification" that will be offered by Public Works. That should be worth the cost of admission.
The repairs are only on Cambridge Avenue from El Camino to Birch. ONLY THAT ONE BLOCK CONTAINING the Weekly's new building.
Let's listen for the cost for that special bit of digging. What a sweet deal!
You're paying for it folks.


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