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Problematic power pole finally replaced

By Cathy Tallyn
Staff writer

“Finally,” was the comment from bystanders who watched a new power pole go up at noon on Oct. 23 off Golden Rain Road, Entry 15.

It took several years of Rossmoor residents complaining and five fires in a dozen years, but PG&E finally replaced its problematic power pole.

News photo by Dan Rosenstrauch
PG&E workers install a new power pole along a hillside off Golden Rain Road on Oct. 23.

Worried Rossmoor neighbors have seen the aging wooden pole as an attractive nuisance. Squirrels climb up the pole, come in contact with the conductors and connections at the top, become electrocuted and fall ablaze onto dry brush below, starting a fire. Residents have complained that PG&E ignored their fire concerns.

However, some neighbors are leery that the new pole will solve the problem because it, too, is made of wood.

“Will it stop the squirrels,” Frances Chin, a nearby resident, asked a PG&E worker supervising the project.

“We can’t prevent that, but we’ll do our best,” he said.

A protective plastic coating was applied to the new conductors and connections to prevent animal electrocutions, said PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian.

The pole had to be made of wood so workers could climb it, she added.  The pole is situated down a steep slope just outside of Rossmoor’s boundary on land that belongs to the Acalanes school district. As a result, a “cherry picker” couldn’t be brought in and used to hoist a worker up. The only way to the top is to climb, she said.

PG&E brought in a special piece of equipment from San Luis Obispo to drag the pole up the hill and then lower it into the ground.

It was almost anticlimactic.

Yellow caution tape cordoned off the area with the best view of the work. As a result, only a handful of neighbors stayed around to see the pole go up.

Stan Chin stood on the edge of the bluff above the power lines and recalled the Sept. 23 fire caused by an electrocuted squirrel. “I stood here with a garden hose.”

PG&E had given Rossmoor officials various time frames, including next year, for the pole to be replaced. The last one given was to the News in September and promised a new pole by the end of October.

Coincidentally, that was about the same time that Rossmoor CEO Tim O’Keefe called on residents to tell the California Public Utilities Commission that they were tired of being given the run around.

O’Keefe credited resident complaints, the help of state Sen. Steve Glazer and press coverage of the issue for PG&E’s reevaluation of the matter and action taken last Wednesday.

“We are pleased that they have taken these steps to mitigate the wildfire risk with this power pole,” he said.

Sarkissian stopped short of crediting public opinion for PG&E ramping up its efforts.

“The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is our most important responsibility,” she said.

PG&E isn’t removing the old pole, which is riddled with woodpecker holes and sits just a few feet away from the new pole, because it carries cable TV and telephone lines, Sarkissian said. Those lines carry much less voltage than PG&E’s so fire risk from animals on the lines is low, she said.

Crews cut off the top of the old pole where the conductors and connections are located, she said.

Nearby resident Jim Brennan wasn’t at home when the work was under way. “At last,” he said later that afternoon when he learned of it.

Even Rossmoor residents who don’t live near the pole were happy for the substitute pole.

“I’m glad to see it’s being replaced,” said Eric Cox, who lives across the valley on Stanley Dollar Drive.

Brennan and Cox were among those the Rossmoor CEO noted for their perseverance.

“GRF would like to acknowledge the support from our elected officials, especially Senator Steve Glazer, and the many residents who remained vigilant and proactive in dealing with PG&E and the CPUC, especially Eric Cox, Michiko MacIver, Kathleen Sample, Dale Harrington, Fred Ridel, Chaim & Sandra Helman, Katherine Smith, Brigitte Turner, Larry Sanchez, Susan Newman, Sharon Heckmann, Jim Brennan and Steve Jorgensen.  Their advocacy clearly had an impact and made a difference.”