A lengthy two-day power outage dashed Thanksgiving plans for residents living along Yorkton Drive in Mountain View last week, prompting calls for a permanent fix to ongoing electricity problems that PG&E has yet to address.
The outage was the second this month, and the last straw for residents fed up with chronic utility problems. Susan Tighe, who lives on the street, said she was ready to host Thanksgiving at her house this year and had carefully planned for a family dinner after staying apart due to COVID-19 last year. She bought the turkey, prepared decorations for the table and ensured that her kids were vaccinated beforehand.
But then came the warning signs. On Thursday morning, the lights began flickering inside homes along Yorkton -- a signal that residents have about 30 minutes of lingering power before a full outage. Tighe said she rushed home to get cars out of the garage and had to come up with a contingency plan, ultimately spending the holiday at her mom's house in San Mateo.
It took until Saturday morning for the power to finally come back, making it the second lengthy outage for the street this month. Hundreds of dollars worth of food has spoiled, Tighe said, and her family has been forced to light rooms with lanterns and take cold showers. She emphasized that the outages are not just a minor inconvenience.
"I think when you tell people that your power went out it goes in one ear and out the other," Tighe said. "When it goes out for 48 hours, you lose all the contents in your fridge. We lost everything in our deep freezer at least once."
The problem is isolated to a small part of the Waverly Park neighborhood. PG&E Spokeswoman Mayra Tostado confirmed that 73 customers had lost power at 10:41 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day due to an underground equipment failure -- specifically an electric cable that had failed. She said crews were immediately sent to fix the problem, but it took until 4:36 p.m. that day to get power restored to only some of the houses. All told, 21 houses remained without power until 3:07 a.m. on Saturday.
"We understand how disruptive it is to be without power and apologize to our customers who have experienced frequent or long-duration outages," Tostado said.
Though affecting a small area, the problems have been chronic and frustrating for residents who say they're already preparing for the next power outage to hit and ruin the holiday season next month. Tighe said her top picks for Christmas presents are a generator and a battery backup for her garage door opener.
Jeff Treuhaft, who also lives on Yorkton Drive, said he got the alert from PG&E on Thursday morning last week and knew immediately that his family was in for a tough day. They had two refrigerators full of food and lots of dishes to prepare, but were hardly expecting the power to swiftly return in time to salvage Thanksgiving. They had just gone through a multiday outage earlier in the month, and ended up eating at a relative's house instead.
"It made what should be a close-knit family connecting time into 'How are we going to get food in our fridge cleared out?'" Treuhaft said. "The whole thing was a mess."
Looking into the problem, Treuhaft said it appears PG&E is making Band-Aid fixes on aging utility lines that are long overdue for a replacement. The neighborhood is supported by power lines that are buried underground, unprotected by a conduit and covered in plastic sheathing that was manufactured in the 1960s. Treuhaft said he believes that plastic is cracking and letting moisture in, causing the cables to short and kill power for the street.
What follows, he said, is the same arduous process: PG&E crews come out, they spend hours trying to pinpoint the problem, then they spend even more time excavating the sidewalk or the street to locate and repair the cable. But rather than replacing the full length of the cable and future-proofing the utility line, they're just fixing small two or three-foot sections at a time, Treuhaft said, and it's that patchwork approach that is so frustrating. Neighbors walking by the street are always surprised to see a PG&E truck parked, yet again, to do the exact same job on a new length of faulty power lines.
"I feel really let down," he said, "I've been a customer for 25 years and paid my bills every month on time and they've never had an issue with me. This keeps happening, and what's most frustrating is when the blue truck shows up on our street it's like we're starting over from scratch every time."
Residents can submit a claim for losses, including spoiled food, in order to be reimbursed by PG&E, but those affected by the outages say they haven't had much luck. After one of the outages, Tighe said she spent hours meticulously putting together itemized price lists for what she purchased and pictures of the spoiled food, which totaled $500, but was only offered $100 in compensation. She elevated it to a supervisor and was able to negotiate for more, but it still covered less than half the cost of the food, she said.
PG&E officials say that a more permanent solution is on the way. Tostado said the public utility company is currently working to obtain permits from the city to replace the underground cables that serve Yorkton Drive and surrounding streets, but that more details are not yet available. She said more information will be available in December and will be mailed to affected customers.
"We apologize for the inconvenience and look forward to upgrading equipment in the area as soon as possible to improve reliability," she said.
City officials confirmed that PG&E is making progress, and has worked with the city to obtain permits to replace electrical lines in a number of streets around Cooper Park including Yorkton. The first permit was issued on Nov. 30, and the city is expediting future permits "due to the seriousness of the issue," according to city spokeswoman Lenka Wright.
Treuhaft said the information released by PG&E is still underwhelming, and that he wishes the company was more transparent about its plans. It's still unclear what specific work is being planned and what could be holding up the permitting process, meanwhile he and his neighbors feel like they are just waiting blind for the next power outage to hit.
"It's crazy that I live halfway between Apple's headquarters and Google's headquarters, in 2021, and I still can't get stable power," he said.