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By Diana Diamond

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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The Power Outage: From a Lemon to Lemonade

Uploaded: Mar 29, 2021
At 5 p.m. on Saturday, my power went out, along with 7,000 other Palo Alto residents. I think for all of us on the Peninsula, power outages occasionally occur, so this was our turn – residents in the 94301 and 94306 areas.

My husband tried to report it. He called the PA Utilities emergency number, but there was no answer. He tried several times and finally heard a robot woman say, if you want to report an outage, call this number. When it was answered, he was asked to go down the telephone tree – do you have a question on billing, your account, etc. Finally, to report an outage, press #4 (or some number she said). First question: Do you want a technician to call you to help you with your problem? If not, he was to call a different number. (We were using our cell phones and mine was only 25% charged.) I went to look at the city’s outage map. “No outages reported,” the screen said. He called the Office of Emergency Services. No answer. I went back to the Utilities number. Repeated calls were disconnected – several times.

No news on CBS, on email, and our local emergency radio station, KZSU, was playing music

We looked at each other and decide to opt for our 6 p.m. dinner reservations at La Boheme on California Avenue – if their electricity was on.. And what follows is a fun tale of how people react to a power loss (or any comparable experience).

The maître d’ said all of California Avenue had no power. Their own kitchen had no windows so it was dark. All they had was cold bread. So, we each had a glass of wine – and three slices of bread. One of the waitresses went home to get her generator to use in the dark kitchen. Another waitress said she can offer cold food – oysters or salmon tartare or…. After I heard oysters I stopped listening. My husband wanted a leafy green salad. A nearby table stopped the waitress and said “two more orders of oysters.” He waved at me for thinking of oysters.

“Did you find any info on your computer?” I asked. Another man nearby said, “No. I’ve been checking everywhere but there’s no information about the outage.” The man behind us said that the outage was a big one and went up to Atherton. Next to him the woman said she understands it hit the whole Bay Area. Someone else said that the blackout was supposed to be over at 9 p.m. The waiter chimed in he heard there was a problem at the park on Park Boulevard where a mylar balloon got caught in the power lines. The woman two table over suggested we “ban the balloons.” Someone else said we should just ban kids with balloons. Another facetiously said, maybe we should just ban babies.

And so, we ate the oysters, bread and a leafy green salad, while watching the table hopping. By the time we left at 7:15 p.m, most of the customers waved to us. We waved back.

It was one of the funnest dinners I’ve had in a couple of years – anew experience talking with everyone in the outside eating area. And the oysters from Oregon (with a lemon slice) were wonderful.

The maître d’ said the blackout was a big surprise – and a such big loss. Business was coming back and for the first time in months, the restaurant was fully booked. Unfortunately, only 10 percent showed up. “We lost 90 percent tonight, including all the extra food we bought for a full restaurant.’ I respect how they all tried hard and did a great job.

We came home at 7:30 and our lights were on!

Things really need to be fixed in the city’s emergency services system All the telephone numbers we called to try to report our outage were useless. The outage maps didn’t appear until at least one-and-a-half hours after the power break. I thought the dedicated purpose of our emergency system was to keep residents informed.

Today is Monday and I still don’t know details about the outage, except that something happened at the Park Blvd. substation #4. Why the silence? I get all utilities department notices and agendas sent to me. But not today. We all feel better if we know what’s happening and when it may be fixed. Just knowing makes a mental difference.

The city is talking about having new residences and offices be all-electric. The “good for the environment” flag was waved before the council and they saluted. But what if the electricity goes down again? What if one of those helium balloons disturb the system? What if a plane accidentally lands on utility lines in East Palo Alto as happened several years ago?

What if our electric cars aren’t charged? Then, city officials, what do residents do?

P.S. What I learned from this experience: Keep several flashlights around the house; keep candles and matches ready for use; keep your car gas tank reasonably filed; charge your electric car every night; keep you cell phones charged; post utility emergency telephone numbers on your refrigerator; keep telephone numbers of your neighbors available on a cell phone, have a cell phone charger in your car, and, of course, have a good book ready to read in a dark house.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Brian Steen, a resident of Greater Miranda,
on Mar 29, 2021 at 2:08 pm

Brian Steen is a registered user.

One of your best columns, Diana! But then our power didn't go out....

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 29, 2021 at 3:14 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

This is an amusing tale of what happened in one restaurant to one couple on a Saturday afternoon with pleasant weather.

If this substation problem had happened on a weekday, earlier in the afternoon, when schools were full of students, offices full of workers, stores full of shoppers, and the roads full of commuters, it may not have been such an amusing tale.

With the touting of using less power between 4 and 9 pm (the times people are getting home and need to charge devices and do chores) together with the proposals to ban gas and move to cleaner power, this is going to turn into much more serious events. When power went out on that now infamous day due to the plane crashing into the East Palo Alto tower that carries all the power to Palo Alto for about 12 hours, we know the chaos that caused. It should not be a case of "our turn" to lose power. This is Silicon Valley. We should have efficient and dependable power.

This should not be OK. It should not be OK that we can lose power without being told a definitive reason other than a problem at a substation. We should not be OK with this. As a journalist, you should know that investigative journalists should be asking our utilities why our power supply is so unreliable.

Journalists do have a mandate to investigate what is going on rather than to report press releases. It is time for our journalists to start digging into what we are not being told. And this is the same for national journalists reporting on national issues, as well as Palo Alto journalists reporting on local issues.

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 29, 2021 at 4:55 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

We wanted to go to Dinah's Shack, and then La Bodeguita, but pivoted to Uni Ave because of the power outage.
After waiting 30 minutes to get seated somewhere, we traded up to Osteria, which was less full. I had the poached salmon, as did Coach. My wife had the pasta special, which was short ribs ravioli. Friend of Coach, not a former player but a brother of his former teammate, also had the ravioli.
Years ago, the coaches all had pitchers of beers at Mountain Mike's post-game, and we players had soda. Coach would say that if we came back after college, we could have beer. Forty years have passed: Coach ordered a 10-year port, and I joined him. If I had thought harder, I would have gone all in on the 30-year port.

Posted by side splitting, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 8:38 am

side splitting is a registered user.

You columns get better every day, such a joy to read - keep it up !

Posted by side splitting, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 8:38 am

side splitting is a registered user.

You columns get better every day, such a joy to read - keep it up !

Posted by side splitting, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 8:38 am

side splitting is a registered user.

You columns get better every day, such a joy to read - keep it up !

Posted by Richard, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 10:39 am

Richard is a registered user.

I had a similar experience trying to report the outage. Either line busy, no answer or got disconnected. No info on what was going on. Frustrating to say the least.

Posted by Consider Your Options. , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 10:52 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

I was in Oregon recently visiting my daughter when there was an ice storm that knocked out power for EIGHT days to 300,000 households. Here's what happened in Milwaukie, Oregon (near Portland).

Neighbors collectively walked the neighborhood to knock on doors and make sure people were safe and warm and had some kind of back-up system, like flash lights, candles, wood burning stoves, gas for cooking. Neighbors worked together to find resources for each other. Able bodied folks with more resources helped elderly and disabled neighbors who needed a warm place to stay. One neighbor had a tree fall and penetrate their roof. Neighbors came by with chain saws, ladders and tarps to help and connected them with a warm, safe place to stay until a contractor could close the hole.

None of this was facilitated by government that was busy dealing with downed lines and failing traffic signals all over the place. People checked on each other and took care of their community before they took care of themselves. It was heartwarming. We joined in because it felt really good to help. There was no whining, just working together to solve shared problems. Solid, healthy community.

Posted by Novelera, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 3:40 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

Excellent article, Diana. I'm in 94303 and did not lose power. But I was baffled driving to a couple of grocery stores and noticing the lack of traffic lights. I go to more than one store because some things I like are only at Safeway and others at Whole Foods.

It really is a shame that the system for finding out why one has lost power and the expectation of it coming back on is so flawed.

I really am torn about the city's strong desire for electric only. I'm kind of glad I'm old and live in a 1950's house. Gas cooking is SO superior to electric. I find it impossible to simmer anything on my son's electric stove.

Posted by Mary Ruth Leen, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 4:41 pm

Mary Ruth Leen is a registered user.

“funnest"?!? Really! No such word. If you write for a publication, please use spell check. Just because people may use the word diesn't make it real.

Posted by The Voice of Palo Alto, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 7:20 pm

The Voice of Palo Alto is a registered user.

All you can take from this blog post is the fact that Diana used “funnest" and then try to correct her? It's true that maybe Diana should have said “most fun" instead.

BUT, taken from Wiktionary: Funnest is a regular superlative of the adjective fun. ... Merriam-Webster, however, gives fun as an adjective without comment, and states that funner and funnest are 'sometimes' used. Because of the remaining stigma, most fun may be preferred in “formal" writing.

So it turns out funnest IS a real word after all (it's just not “fully accepted") which makes your entire premise for criticism invalid!

Not only that, a blog is informal writing so Diana can use “funnest" if she wants to. So either way, technically speaking, YOU are WRONG Mary Ruth. How sad.

Also, in your big rush to correct and criticize Diana, you spelled “doesn't" wrong. “Doesn't" does not (or doesn't-see what I did there?) have an “i" in it. Really! No such word. If you are going to comment, use a spell check.

In my opinion, you sound very jealous Mary Ruth. Stop being a “hater" in the comment section and get your own blog if you really think you can do better. Let Diana do her blog posts if she wants to. At least Diana is bringing her writing ability and sense of humor to the table and offering people something to read and maybe enjoy unlike your nitpicking comment.
How nasty of you!

Posted by rita vrhel, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Apr 1, 2021 at 2:13 pm

rita vrhel is a registered user.

Diana: you seem to tackle difficult topics.

Can you pursuade Molly Stump to answer the question: did she ever advised Michael Alchech that he may have a legal or perceived conflict of interest in his role as a PTC Commissioner since Alcheck Properties, according to Fred Balin and Bill Ross (2 informed residents, hired in 10/2017, Mindy Romanowsky, Castilleja's Counsel of Record since 2/2017.

Mr. Alcheck certainly, IMO, lead the charge to certify Castilleja's very defective EIR and winked about Staff's recommendation of the the illegal in R-1 neighborhoods garage actually being a basement which would only hold cars!

The City Council said NO and has sent Castilleja's expansion plans back to the PTC and ARB for additional review. Apparently without the winks.

Ms. Stump apparently refuses to answer Mr. Balin's, Mr. Ross' and my simple question about Mr. Alcheck. Can you get an answer?????? Thank you.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Apr 1, 2021 at 3:12 pm

Online Name is a registered user.


In addition to Rita's questions for Ms. Stump re Alcheck's various misdeeds and conflicts of interest that were so egregious Los Altos City Council told him in 2014 to stick with screwing up Palo Alto, ask her why the PTC allowed city "planners" to cite 1999!! numbers in its Casti TDM studies -- a period during which Google's employees rose from 3,000 employees to 135,000+ -- and why they tolerated the planners continued failure to separate Casti event traffic from regular classroom traffic. Hint: Buy a calendar showing days of the week?

Pat Burt asked how the PTC let the Casti project get this far -- and waste so much of our scarce time and resources. He politely called it "having the finger on the scale" favoring the applicant and ignoring the obvious that traffic's increased since 1999 when the problem involves bigger body parts.

Re PAU, ask Ms Stump where our refunds are from the Miriam Green lawsuit and if the same staff having trouble reaching PAU customers is the same folks having such trouble handling the power outages alerts, traffic demand studies, event traffic data, fixing traffic light timing, reaching out to the community etc etc etc.

Posted by ZPS, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 3, 2021 at 10:20 am

ZPS is a registered user.

Yes, Ms. Stump as P.A.'s City Attorney, why are you and your staff not responding to citizens' legitimate questions about a commissioner's questionable behavior ? Your silence speaks volumes. While technically you serve the Council by extension you also serve the public. Should the City & Council Members be named defendants in litigation, it is the residents of Palo Alto are left holding the proverbial "bag."

Mr Alcheck has been a festering issue for the community for years. Your and the Council's unwillingness to straightforwardly deal with his offensive behavior as well as his apparent conflict of interest on his carport/garage issue as well as the Castilleja matter may result in costly and time-consuming ramifications for the City on your watch.

Ms.Stump and Council, if you're hoping to run the clock out on Mr Alcheck's tenure you're walking a fine line. The newly approved City Boards, Commission, and Committee Handbook (2020) that you believe will set a legal and ethical foundation for commissioners going forward, and allow for removal for unprofessional conduct without legal exposure to the City provides no safeguards to you and Council of conduct prior to adoption. And since adoption, the public has a right to know if Mr. Alcheck has been put on notice for his offensive, dismissive and conflicted behavior?

When therefore-mentioned Handbook was released, Mr. Alcheck made a vociferous case about damage to a commissioners/members professional reputation should s/he be removed before their tenure expires. Hint: Mr. Alcheck will not go quietly. Further, Mr. Alcheck realizes while on the Planning and Transportation Commission, he has served powerful pro-development interests on Council and in P.A. What role do the 2 remaining, pro development Council Members have in ensuring Mr. Alcheck's continued tenure?

It's time Mayor DuBois & Council to direct Ms. Stump to respond to citizen inquiries on Mr. Alcheck and take action on his excesses!

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 4, 2021 at 10:18 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Sunday evening (Easter) another outage.

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 14, 2021 at 11:48 am

Bystander is a registered user.

And another power outage last night.

What can be done to stop these almost weekly inconviences?

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