There’s a power struggle raging in Los Altos resident Jeff Greenwald’s Dos Palos neighborhood.
The neighborhood has endured six electrical outages in the past six months, including one that stretched seven hours that left Green- wald with $110 worth of spoiled food he said PG&E refused to pay for. The company’s reason: PG&E isn’t contractually obligated to provide power on a continual basis.
Last year’s outages – three of which were planned – are nothing new, according to a group of Dos Palos residents who gathered Jan. 17 at Greenwald’s home to discuss the problem with a pair of PG&E officials.
“A number of our neighbors have put up backup generators, have put in solar with batteries, have looked at other off-the-grid solutions, but I don’t have time for that kind of stuff,” said Greenwald, a 30-year resident. “I want PG&E to provide a better experience, and in the 30 years that I’ve been here, it has gotten worse.”
The Dos Palos neighborhood in north Los Altos comprises 145 homes – part of 171 homes on the electrical circuit, according to Greenwald. He said the outages have lasted from 55 minutes to nearly eight hours and have affected from 20 to 275 homes. Resident Leo Ramek said the situation was so bad in some past years, he became friends over the phone with PG&E’s planned outages manager.
“We would talk and we would laugh and stuff, but it wasn’t funny because I had to talk to her on an ongoing basis, there were so many issues,” he said.
But while there was visible frustration among the nine residents who represented the Dos Palos Homeowners Association at the Jan. 17 meeting, they tried to focus on what they could do and how they could work with PG&E to improve their power service. One of their suggestions was improved communication.
“There was a seven-hour outage and I don’t think anybody, until you said what happened, really understood it,” resident Ed Saliba told a PG&E representative about an incident that happened last year where a tree fell over on Dixon Way. “It’s sort of an act of God. I get it. I think everybody would feel better (hearing), ‘Gee, it isn’t old underground lines, or it isn’t a transformer – it was a tree.’”
PG&E’s South Bay Vegetation Manager Kirk Shearer and Customer Relationship Manager Alinda Martinez both seemed surprised that the Dos Palos residents have endured so many power outages over the years. Historically, Shearer said, people living in areas like Los Altos Hills or on Bear Creek Road in Los Gatos have complained about outages because they live at the end of the circuit. However, since PG&E has started performing reliability work, which means working with homeowners to do additional tree maintenance that’s not compliance driven, Shearer said their “services (have) dramatically improved over the last three to five years.”
According to PG&E spokeswoman Mayra Tostado, the Dos Palos neighborhood has suffered 10 outages since January 2014, with three planned and seven unplanned. Martinez said that as of two weeks ago, there are no planned outages scheduled for the neighborhood this year.
As the meeting came to a close, Greenwald asked Shearer for two things: share more information before or after about planned and unplanned outages, and share information to help residents take action on preventive maintenance such as tree trimming. Shearer said PG&E would do its best to comply.
“I wanted to set a line in the sand that PG&E understood,” Greenwald said of the meeting. “Let’s partner together so things get better.”