High winds, soggy ground cause trees to fall, electricity to go out | March 17, 2023 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 17, 2023

High winds, soggy ground cause trees to fall, electricity to go out

Thousands of Palo Alto Utilities customers lose power this week

by Palo Alto Weekly staff

Strong winds and stormy conditions earlier this week toppled trees and electrical wires in Palo Alto, where multiple power outages impacted thousands of Palo Alto Utilities customers on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 14, 2023 at 12:52 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Crescent Park customers and East Palo Alto are also out according to the latest outage maps.

Time to talk about underground wiring yet?

Posted by PaloAltokar
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2023 at 2:22 pm

PaloAltokar is a registered user.

@Online Name, why spend so much on undergrounding power lines for storms that only happen once in a very long time ? Let us enjoy time without TV and other gadgets, candle lit dinner with cold food from the fridge (that is still safe to eat), just like our grandparents ! So much fun !

Posted by Bruce Hodge
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 14, 2023 at 2:41 pm

Bruce Hodge is a registered user.

Pretty tired of this troll theme about the City not pursuing undergrounding electrical lines. Here's a summary from a very recent City report. Get your facts straight and quit complaining about something that's already in progress.

"To date, about 55% of City’s electric distribution lines are underground, either through the underground conversion program or having been placed underground when originally installed. Further eight districts are identified for conversion, with a cost range of $20 to $24 million, which would bring the underground distribution line percentage up to about 60%. Undergrounding has started in the Foothills rebuild for fire risk mitigation. Phase 1 of 5 completed; phase 2 in progress The City is evaluating a cost-share bundle package of services to residential neighborhoods which includes undergrounding, electrification and fiber-to-the-home."

Posted by Some Random Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2023 at 3:11 pm

Some Random Resident is a registered user.

@Bruce Hodge -- could you provide a link to the recent City report from which you quoted?

Posted by III
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2023 at 3:36 pm

III is a registered user.

Those trees on Page Mill headed to hwy 280 and for the
next few hundred yards have been leaning for the past 40 years.
Drought and massive rain finally hit home.
Hopefully not, but other trees in same area might have to be removed someday.....
Don't remember so many local Palo Alto weather related problems 1970-2000.
Maybe I was just too young to notice. Maybe we did not have the same
dependence on electricity, cars, similar.
Maybe there is just more communication as to my knowledge
obtaining all the weather related local problems.

Posted by Bruce Hodge
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 14, 2023 at 3:38 pm

Bruce Hodge is a registered user.

City Report: Web Link
Page 48

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2023 at 3:51 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

It was interesting; but, I think that this was the first storm front to come through in which I did NOT receive a wind advisory/warning from the county.

Posted by Some Random Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2023 at 4:08 pm

Some Random Resident is a registered user.

@Bruce - thanks. It's not that encouraging. It's "routine" priority, which means they think about it, but not too hard, and have no timeframe for completing it, let alone planning for the remaining 40%.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2023 at 5:08 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

It is windy, it has been raining heavy, and we have power outages. This is not acceptable.

For those who think this is a romantic/nostalgic experience, good for you. For the rest of us, those who are attempting to work from home, unable to cook a meal as food that is in the fridge is raw, or have to throw out half cooked food or spoiled food, have no internet and no means to charge devices, and this is not the first time in the past few months.
Our electricity supply is unreliable, inefficient and with the way our bills have increased in recent months, we are paying a great deal of money for this unacceptble service.

Yes, get those lines underground. We can't stop trees and branches from falling, but we can prevent them downing power lines, causing fires from sparks, causing the possibility of electrocution to someone the line might fall on or causing someone to be a prisoner in their car until they know the downed line isn't live.

Do we need a death from a downed line to make our utilities wake up and see that it is not mild inconvenience when power goes out, but a dangerous and expensive problem.

Posted by mkrause3
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 14, 2023 at 6:44 pm

mkrause3 is a registered user.

A downed city tree is blocking Castilleja Ave. in the 1600 block (Southgate neighborhood). Police have been notified and say we're on the 'list'. I know they are dealing with serious power outages and traffic issues but I fear that a cyclist (Castilleja is a bike route) or motorist is going to run into the downed tree as it gets dark. I've asked that they at least put up cones or something reflective to warn cyclists and cars. Fingers crossed they get here soon.

Posted by mkrause3
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 14, 2023 at 7:18 pm

mkrause3 is a registered user.

The tree removal guys are here! And they are removing tree. Happy ending!

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 14, 2023 at 7:22 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

A street tree had a well known problem noted by the city. They had checked it out and said it was dying. But they did not remove it. And then it happened - a whole portion fell onto Louis Road near the Charleston connection - a very busy location for bicycles and cars. Individuals came in to help then called the police to notify of the problem - but they were down at another tree in the road. My discussion with the city tree people is that they come when the problem happens - they do not work to prevent the problem by removing troubled trees before they have limbs fall off. The budget for the city is not set up for prevention. It is set up for failure to act in an obvious default where common sense should prevail. Infracstructure issues in this state are not a priority.

Posted by Morgan
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 14, 2023 at 8:10 pm

Morgan is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2023 at 8:28 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

One would think that a city named "Tall Tree" would have a plan about what to do in the event of a windstorm regarding trees and utility lines. But instead we have a Manager who can't manage trees, and an Assistant Manager who can't advise the Manager about how to manage trees, and a Utility Director who doesn't know how to keep their Utilities safe from unmanaged trees, and Assistant Utility Directors who can't advise the Boss as to what to do in a windstorm. We don't even have a City Attorney who can weigh in on any of this. If we just had five City Arborists instead of these overpaid lumps, tree health would be a high priority. But we don't, so trees will continue to vex us until there are no more trees. But ... phew, and thank god ... those high paid salaried people will still be there doing their "jobs". No updates on Transparent California. The "fix" is in.

Posted by toransu
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2023 at 8:30 pm

toransu is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Seer
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 14, 2023 at 10:09 pm

Seer is a registered user.

Our power is still out ten hours later. The wind storm is long over, rain is over, the city called and said “your power is restored”. We had to tell them “our block is not on”. We later saw a city truck come by. D’oh! Now the phone messages says power will be restored by 11pm March 15. Seriously? That would be 18 hours!

Not feeling the love.

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2023 at 10:36 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

It was a very windy, rainy day. Trees were falling all over the Bay Area. Small planes were flipped over at an airport in Concord. Power was lost everywhere including our house for several hours. I was working from home. Do you really expect Palo Alto to "have a plan" so this doesn't happen?

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2023 at 11:06 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Arborists study trees. They study the structure and integrity of limbs, and the root systems, to determine if trees are healthy. Lots of things can cause trees to become unstable -- excess water (i.e. RAIN), ants, other pests, limb wounds -- I'm not an arborist but I know that if this city wants to use a tree for a logo they should at least have a professional assess all trees (public and private land). Otherwise maybe change the logo to a tree lying on its side, on top of someone's roof. A tree that is unhealthy should be pro-actively removed. THAT'S A PLAN.

Posted by Silver Linings
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2023 at 3:16 am

Silver Linings is a registered user.

I just want to say a huge Thank You ! to all of the emergency and safety responders, and utility workers who were out in these conditions today. Thank you too to public works for keeping the storm drains working and monitoring creeks. Thanks to everyone making sand bags available. If I missed someone, I’m sorry—I am deeply grateful to all making our town function and for your safety work in this unprecedented weather.

Posted by Bill Ross
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 15, 2023 at 7:35 am

Bill Ross is a registered user.

It’s been almost a year since high winds and electrical wires in then dry trees started a fire “like Paradise” remarked the responding firefighters. How many incidents to establish that above ground lines especially those of PG&E within City limits are “dangerous conditions of public property” which need to be removed? Fire and police are to be thanked many of whom are working required overtime—which wouldn’t happen if both Departments were fully staffed. Newer firefighters and police officers can’t be retained. A new model is needed.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2023 at 8:38 am

Bystander is a registered user.

I would like to thank Silver linings for the comment and wish we still had a like button.

I think our utility workers have done a fabulous job over the past few months. The amount of work they have had to do this winter has been unprecedented.

What must be asked is whether we are going to be ready for a similar winter next year? This weather has been crazy, but if this is the way it will be for the next few years can anything be done to be better prepared? Serious questions have to be asked about the cyclical weather trends remaining here and what can be done to be better prepared for next year. Keeping fingers crossed is not a plan.

Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 15, 2023 at 10:28 am

Anneke is a registered user.

I just sent this to Palo Alto's City Council:

Dear Members of the City Council,

I have tried three times to send this message to the appropriate department in the City, but each time just before I hit "Submit," the whole message disappears. Hence, my fourth try and sending it to you.

Yesterday-afternoon, our huge decades-old oak tree came crashing down. It could have easily killed a person or persons.

It was a miracle that the tree did not hit our home or my husband and dog, as they had been in the back garden just prior, but it did hit our neighbor's back wall and roof. How much damage there is, we do not know yet.

We contacted our Tree Service, S.P. McClenahan. They came out immediately and estimated the removal of the tree to cost at least $10,000. Plus we will need to reconstruct a new fence between the homes and one in our back. Moreover, we want to plant another good-size tree in the place of the crashed oak tree.

A few years ago, we contacted the City of Palo Alto Tree Services and asked for permission to remove some heavy limbs, as the tree was getting too big and too heavy and we deemed it dangerous to our home, us, surrounding homes and our neighbors. The Tree Services Department refused on the basis that they claimed that the tree was half on city property (back alley) and that it was a protected tree.

As a result, we want to ask the City to help us share this unexpected large expense for us.


Anneke Dempsey
1036 Bryant Street
Palo Alto, CA 94301

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 15, 2023 at 10:32 am

Anonymous is a registered user.

Some very good points are being made on this thread!! Share!

Posted by akaMaiNguyen
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 15, 2023 at 11:37 am

akaMaiNguyen is a registered user.

Huge thank you to the City workers on the power line and the trees yesterday and today. Our neighborhood had a tree down that damaged both primary and secondary lines, and created a downed live wire. A fireman were out immediately to assess the dangers, and power crew and tree-trimming crew worked through the evening into 3 am to restore our power. They continue to do tree removal today. We are so grateful for their work in the rain and wind to keep us safe and to give us power back in an astonishingly short time, given how much work was needed just for our incident, which was just one amongst many.

Posted by PA Citizen
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 15, 2023 at 11:42 am

PA Citizen is a registered user.

We had a fallen tree on our street that took out power and closed down Embarcadero Rd. I wanted to thank the teams that came out working all night to remove a very large tree, replace 3 poles and restore (soon) our power.

To all the folks who are complaining, this storm was a very severe and had many disruptions throughout the city. Our city is doing the best that they can. Cut them some slack!

Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 15, 2023 at 12:45 pm

Anneke is a registered user.

We all know the saying: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

However, it is in human's nature that prevention does not receive the recognition it deserves, while the cure (to a problem that could have been prevented) receives all the kudos and the spending funding.

Posted by cmarg
a resident of University South
on Mar 15, 2023 at 1:27 pm

cmarg is a registered user.

Huge thank you to the Utilities Group. There was a large tree that went down a few homes down. The utility poll is in front of our home. I saw the pole swing and then the bang of the tree going down.
Although I would love underground cabling, in this case, the power line saved our neighbors car from getting major damage. And, thank God the tree was not a bit longer otherwise our neighbor would have been injured and their home hit by the tree.
The Utility team was amazing and they had people dealing with the large tree since it fell from the opposite side of the street and they had a team working on all the wiring that was hanging and damaged by the tree falling. So wonderful to have such a responsive and professional group of people! Thank You.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2023 at 8:56 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

If a tree is on the side of the SB 280 exit to Page Mill Road, does it make a noise when it falls? It sure gets in the way. I bet as soon as it got dark tonight, somebody smashed right into a downed tree in the middle of the exit.

An aside to @Bill Ross, the Camp Fire at Paradise was caused by PG&E lines... but........ the wind ignited the parched fuel that led to the conflagration. That's not to say that if enough sparks fly, the moisture can't keep it from spreading, but it's unlikely. Every firefighter on scene in Paradise says it was the drought conditions that caused the super-heated wind and flames to churn through acres in mere minutes. We are lucky we had the rain and the wind, though either/or is a PITA.

Posted by Easy8
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 15, 2023 at 9:16 pm

Easy8 is a registered user.

Despite things that could be better, I also want to add my thanks and appreciation to the city workers who restore power waaay faster than PG+E, often working in the middle of the night.

My commute home takes me along El Monte and Foothill, and there are still large sections with no traffic lights or power as of this evening, 2 days after the storm. Downtown Main Street in Los Altos remains blacked out (viewed from Foothill). As of tonight, PG+E conceded there are still 100,000 households without power.

Remember the January storms, when star San Francisco 49er player George Kittle tweeted he was without PG+E power for 4 days, and was trying to prepare for the critical playoff game against Seattle.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 16, 2023 at 9:11 am

Annette is a registered user.

Observation: there's universal praise for the utility field workers. I've lived here for decades and I think that residents have always appreciated the efforts of CPAU field workers. What has grown over the years is frustration with management. Power outages and the occurrence of predictable problems naturally turn the spotlight on those in charge. I can easily imagine that in post-storm debriefings, those in charge can say that the City responded well. What I think the public would like to hear is what was learned, what can be done differently/better, and what is the plan for mitigation so that next time isn't as bad? The sorry 25 year saga of the bridges and creeks is a good example of why many Palo Altans are critical of management. We can and should do better.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2023 at 9:35 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Annette is spot on, previous post. I miss the like button.

Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 17, 2023 at 6:41 pm

Neilson Buchanan is a registered user.

I had the opportunity to watch city response to two large tree falls near my home. Thank you city staff for being there when you were needed. I understand stresses of triage and emergency events. I observed prompt and professional efforts. My immediate neighbors and I were fortunate to have minimal disruption (just short period of power failure). I can only imagine the pain of property losses and inconveniences to other neighbors.

It would build greater public appreciation if Palo Alto Online provided a high level view of what emergency responders experienced and learned.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2023 at 9:35 am

Bystander is a registered user.

And as for the outage overnight Sunday/Monday? Utilities were not tweeting until at least 9 am today.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 20, 2023 at 10:50 am

Online Name is a registered user.

How many other people had outages starting at 2AN on 3/20? Do we know what the cause was?

Posted by Larry
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 21, 2023 at 6:02 pm

Larry is a registered user.

My experience with CPA taking care of its street trees has been excellent. Two trees in front of my house were identified as ailing by the City arborist (yes, apparently the City has a staff arborist, possibly several) who ordered them to be removed before they could fall. After they were taken out by a highly professional City crew, the City replaced them with two saplings. They even sent a truck around to water the new trees periodically. And this is all without me or any of my neighbors ever contacting the City. Can't ask for better service than that, IMO.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2023 at 6:23 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Oh, the irony of it all. In 2018, in Paradise CA, a catastrophic fire was started by power lines that were downed by the wind, causing sparks that blew up into an apocalyptic fire that took only a few hours to reduce nearly every structure into rubble. Terms like "Once-in-a-lifetime perfect storm" and "unprecedented" were just two phrases which have become part of everyday nomenclature regarding climate change and its twin brother, called natural disasters.

After the dust settled in Paradise, the lawsuits began. Court proceedings also began immediately to identify the perpetrator, which turned out to be PG&E. Thus all of the claims were aimed squarely at the power company.

Here we have the opposite. A city called Tall Tree fails to maintain its tall trees properly. High winds and heavy rain create the perfect storm for downed trees that cause structural damage, and cause power outages. The repair of the outages -- parts and hazard pay -- is not FREE. The repair of the buildings are not FREE. The lives lost come with heavy hearted mourners who are rightfully angry that no one took pre-emptive measures to prevent these disasters.

So, in the case that it's the trees exacerbating a 100-year storm, who will be the first to file a lawsuit against a tree? Where do you start? With the person who planted the tree? Or the person who failed to inspect and prune it properly? Do you blame the person who bought into the dream of a cute little bungalow surrounded by trees, who was never told about the costs of maintaining the trees?

Yes, the City has done studies about feasibility to put the electricity underground that have taken years and will take more years to decide how, when, and who will pay to put the utilities underground. Meanwhile, trees are falling.

You can put the utilities underground. It will NOT prevent trees from falling. There needs to be a PLAN, outside of putting utilities underground, to mitigate the expense to the homeowner.

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