Sat12202014

News

Council seeks more options for community center

Council seeks more options for community center


Town Crier File Photo
The Los Altos City Council approved an appropriation to examine options for a new community center to replace the aging Hillview facility.

The Los Altos City Council last week voted narrowly in favor of examining further opti...

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Schools

Local schools participate in  national Hour of Code activities

Local schools participate in national Hour of Code activities


Ellie Van HOutte/Town Crier
Himan Shu Raj, a volunteer from Microsoft, advises Los Altos High ninth-graders, from left, Serhat Suzer, Jamie Bennett and Chris Yang as they participate in the school’s Hour of Code Showcase.

Local schools participa...

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Community

Take a dive into the holiday archive

Take a dive into the holiday archive

Town Crier staff made a quick cruise back through the newspaper's archives to find some late-December reading as inspiration for eating, drinking, decorating and more:

Beloved holiday books build the spirit of the season and staff at Los Altos’ Li...

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Sports

Pinewood poised for another title run

Pinewood poised for another title run


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Pinewood’s girls basketball team is receiving contributions from several new players, including freshman Stella Kailahi, above.

Complacency shouldn’t be a problem for the defending Division V state champion Pinewood S...

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Comment

Letters to the Editor

Ticket motorists for U-turns on Main Street

As I was walking downtown on Main Street recently, something came to me out of the blue. The town of Los Altos is missing out on a huge revenue stream. I realized that if all the cars – there were th...

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Special Sections

Looking Ahead

Looking Ahead


s in line to be mayor of Mountain View in 2015.

Mountain View anticipates the following changes in 2015:

• Beginning Jan. 1, Mountain View City Councilmembers will receive a raise to $1,000 per month as a result of the passage of Measure A in...

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Business

Your 2015 stock market game plan

It’s been a maddening month because of oil and gas, especially in stocks and bonds. Then, consumer spending pushed stocks higher Thursday, easing investors’ jitters about the global economy and prompting them to consider how to invest in ...

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Books

Gawande's

Gawande's "Being Mortal" proves an important book on aging


Books about death and dying are usually not on my list of “must reads.”

I couldn’t resist, however, the best-selling “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” (Metropolitan Books, 2014) by Atul Gawande.

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People

SANGEETA SACHDEVA

SANGEETA SACHDEVA

Sangeeta Sachdeva, 55, wife of Subhash Sachdeva and mother to Natasha and Tanya, died at 8:54pm, Sunday, December 7, 2014 from respiratory failure.

Sangeeta was born on October 18, 1959 in Delhi, India. She was born to Moti Sagar and Raj Kapoor an...

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Travel

South Tahoe renovations enhance off-mountain seasonal fun

As any enthusiast knows well, there is more to the enjoyment of winter sports than skiing or snowboarding.

While many winter resorts make minor upgrades each season, the off-mountain attractions and amenities can be as enticing as the activities on ...

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Stepping Out

Aurora Singers to emit 'Musical Glow' Friday

Aurora Singers to emit 'Musical Glow' Friday


courtesy of Aurora Singers
The Aurora Singers are scheduled to perform a seasonal concert Friday night in Palo Alto.

The Aurora Singers’ “Winter’s Musical Glow” holiday concert is set for 7 p.m. Friday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Pal...

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Spiritual Life

Enter the superhero: Finding the God who loves you

In my life-coaching practice, I see a lot of pain. Much of it stems from fear and guilt, often expressed as low self-esteem, anxiety, a lack of forgiveness both for oneself and others, anger – and so on.

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Magazine

Christmas At Our House home tour celebrates 26 years

Christmas At Our House home tour celebrates 26 years


Courtesy of Christopher Stark
Homes on the St. Francis High School Women’s Club’s Christmas at Our House Holiday Home Tour showcase a variety of architectural styles.

The days grow short on sunshine but long on nostalgia as the holidays approach...

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How safe are we?: Los Altos officials collaborate with PG&E on gas-pipeline safety measures

Photo Elliott Burr/Town Crier

Los Altos Engineering Services Manager Jim Gustafson, above, explains how he locates underground gas lines when planning construction projects.

Last September’s deadly gas-pipeline explosion in San Bruno raised many questions, with Los Altos residents asking, “Could that happen in my neighborhood?”

PG&E’s pipelines deliver natural gas to residents in cities across the Bay Area. Los Altos officials are working with the utility company to prevent such a disaster from happening locally, according to Jim Gustafson, engineering services manager.

“We have approximately 10,000 gas connections,” Gustafson said. “Every house in the city has gas delivered to it.”

Although he does not have a precise Los Altos PG&E map, Gustafson said gas pipelines run along Foothill Expressway, Grant Road and El Monte Avenue, and some of the lines are old.

“We’ve requested a utility grid map from PG&E, along with pipe conditions and schedules for testing,” he said. “They’re addressing similar requests from several cities.”

In the meantime, all development projects require underground utility work, which proceeds on a site-by-site basis, he said.

The gas line running under Los Altos along El Monte is the narrower, 4- to 8-inch-wide distribution feeder main line, not the wider, 24-inch transmission line, according to Brittany Chord, PG&E spokeswoman.

Installed in 1955, the Los Altos feeder lines deliver gas to residential areas, Chord said. Some new sections were added in 1998.

Proceeding with caution

Without a utility map for guidance, city officials take extra precautions while planning and executing construction projects to avoid undue mishaps, Gustafson said.

“We’re very cautious about our projects,” he said. “We follow the Underground Service Alert (USA North) system before construction.”

The USA system generates communication between city officials and PG&E before the shovel hits the ground, according to Gustafson. After a project plan is finalized, he notifies the utility companies – including PG&E – of the project details and awaits response. The companies inspect the plan to determine the scope of work required to ensure that cables and lines have enough separation from one another, he said.

Each utility has its own set of codes and standards it must follow. In addition to their rules, Gustafson’s team diligently takes care to guarantee that utility lines are out of the city’s way.

“Every project is challenging,” Gustafson said. “The underground is busy.”

The USA system might cause delays, but safety is the city’s No. 1 priority, he added.

San Bruno aftermath

Investigations and public hearings are ongoing months in the wake of the Sept. 9 San Bruno gas-pipeline explosion, which caused an inferno powerful enough to be seen from Los Altos Hills.

The rupture of the PG&E-owned and -operated natural gas pipeline – 30 inches in diameter – killed eight people, injured many more and destroyed 37 homes and damaged 18, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

At San Bruno town hall meetings that followed, residents and family members shared personal accounts of what happened that day.

The powerful blast occurred after a major gas line running under a San Bruno neighborhood began leaking large volumes of gas, which ignited, blew a 28-foot section of the pipe out of the ground and set ablaze a dozen homes.

According to a Dec. 14 report by onsite investigators, PG&E’s pipeline in the ruptured area was installed in 1956 and connected with welds. It was not seamless, as the utility’s records indicated. While some sections were welded from both the inside and outside of the pipe, others were welded only from the outside.

After discovering that PG&E’s records for the San Bruno explosion area were inaccurate, National Transportation Safety Board regulators issued recommendations for the utility to follow.

Federal investigators directed the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which regulates PG&E’s pipeline operations, to ensure that utility representatives search the records for more accurate information on their pipelines. If the document and records search cannot be satisfactorily completed, they must identify segments that had not undergone a testing regimen, to determine a safe operating pressure, explore the use of automatic/remotely operated shut-off valves and provide oversight of any testing conducted by PG&E.

It happened one night

in Los Altos

The explosion in San Bruno brought back painful memories for Los Altos resident David Hu, who experienced a similar crisis several years ago.

A faulty PG&E gas pipeline caused an explosion that blew apart Hu’s Frontero Avenue home in 2005. Hu and his two children were sleeping but managed to escape with minor injuries. His wife was out of the country at the time.

An investigation identified a copper gas-pipeline connector as the cause of the explosion. Gas began leaking at the failed connector, which joined two steel gas pipes and returned to the home through the sewer pipe, consequently causing the explosion that destroyed three-quarters of the home. A portion of Hu’s garage roof fell, and he was pinned under a mattress covered with debris. He and his children suffered bruises, scratches and minor injuries.

“We’re still coping with that. Once in a while, images of the past haunt me,” Hu said. “We’re doing fine now, thank God. It was nothing short of a miracle. We had several angels with their arms around us.”

Hu and his family have since moved from their damaged home but remain in Los Altos. Bound by legal obligations, he is unable to reveal more information and would rather put the entire episode behind him. Dealings with PG&E after the explosion have been satisfactory, he said.

Pipeline testing begins

Last month PG&E embarked on the task of safety testing its pipelines per CPUC directive, beginning in Mountain View and Antioch.

“What we are hydrotesting now is 150 miles of transmission pipelines based on characteristics similar to those of the San Bruno pipes,” Chord said.

The testing involves pressurizing a section of pipe with water to a much higher pressure than the pipe would experience with natural gas. The test validates the safe operating pressure of the pipeline. Crews tested a 1.5-mile stretch of 24-inch pipe that runs from Shoreline Golf Links to a street behind Crittenden Middle School, part of which was installed in 1944.

“The eight-hour test ended successfully in Mountain View,” Chord said. “There was no loss in water pressure, which means no leaks were found.”

PG&E established a comprehensive survey and monitoring program for ongoing reviews of the safety of its natural gas transmission pipeline system, Chord said. The company has taken significant initial actions to improve the safety and operations of the natural gas system and the security of the communities it serves.

PG&E pipelines of a similar size and age to the San Bruno line that have not been pressure tested are continuing to operate at pressures reduced by 20 percent, Chord said. PG&E is communicating with residents within 2,000 feet of its gas transmission pipeline throughout its service area, she said.

Additional testing in other cities will follow in the coming months. Los Altos is not on PG&E’s radar for the immediate future, Chord said, adding that Los Altos’ pipelines are significantly narrower and different from those that ruptured in San Bruno.

Residents interested in additional information on PG&E pipelines should contact the company directly, as city officials do not have such data, Gustafson said.

For more information, visit www.pge.com.

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