Tuesday: Important Meeting to Advocate for the Defreewaytization of San Jose Avenue

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Remember that fabulously ambitious idea to rethink the speedway portion of San Jose Avenue through the Bernal Cut? The visionary set of ideas that focused on ways to reintegrate San Jose Boulevard into the Bernal-Glen streetscape?

That was some mind-expanding stuff, but it wasn’t just fantasy. Tomorrow, Tuesday, January 19 at 6:30 pm, there will be a community meeting with the SFMTA to discuss some down-to-earth proposals to re-unite Bernal Heights with our ancestral kin in Bernal-Glen. Mike Schiraldi from Bernal-Glen has been leading the charge to make this happen, and he explains why you should attend:

Tomorrow night is the MTA’s big community meeting for the SJA Road Diet. It’s very important to let them know how many San Franciscans share a vision of San Jose Avenue that’s less like a freeway and more like a boulevard.

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The “I ♥ SJB” refers to the San Jose Boulevard slideshow that brought you all to this mailing list. “Fund the study!” refers to one of the declared goals of the Glen Park Community Plan, created and endorsed by the SF Planning Department and the Glen Park Association in February 2012. It called for a study to be conducted by February 2017 to investigate the feasibility of reconnecting San Jose Avenue to the local street grid, adding a new J-Church stop, and, effectively, de-freeway-izing it. The problem is, we haven’t heard peep about the study in years. Let’s get it back on track!

Please come if you can make it; a single in-person appearance at an event like this is volumes more effective than, say, 50 snarky comments on NextDoor and Facebook. Here are the details:

Tuesday January 19th, 6:30-8:30pm
Glen Park School Auditorium
151 Lippard Avenue

There’s decent parking availability after school hours, and the address is also very transit-accessible.

Do We Really Think a Wayward Drone Caused Last Night’s Power Outage?

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A Sunday evening power outage along Hampshire Street in northeast Bernal Heights may have been triggered by an errant drone. Or, the blackout may have had nothing whatsoever to do with a drone, but for some rather coincidental timing.

Neighbor Teresa reports:

Residents of Hampshire Street lost power at 5:04 tonight. 34 homes were affected. A few of the neighbors saw something kind of big hit the power pole at Hampshire and Peralta. There was a small explosion and all went dark.

Was it a plane? Was it a bird? Was it… a drone???

PG&E crews are searching the area around the power pole right now.
Looking for … THE DRONE!

Power was restored in about two hours. Thanks PGE! This is the best of you!

Neighbor Margo adds:

Power is out here in the Hampshire sector of Bernalwood. Apparently some guys flew their drone into the power lines on the pole at the corner of Peralta and Hampshire. The explosion was impressive enough that my husband Lynn thought it was right outside our house, which is a half-block away.

Some of the neighbors told me that a few guys came looking for the drone, but when they realized it had caused a power outage, they said were looking for their friend’s drone. The PG&E guy said that he hadn’t heard of this happening before. So it might be a first. Probably won’t be the last.

But wait, did this even happen at all? Was a drone to blame? We shouldn’t be so sure.

The title of SFGate’s story provides the first clue that this tale should be approached with skepticism: “Did wayward drone knock out power in Bernal Heights?”   That right there is a classic instance of Betteridge’s Law, the truism that any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no.’ (Please find lots more examples of Betteridge’s Law here.)

And then, of course, there are the actual facts: Apparently, no one actually saw a drone hit the power line, and no drone was recovered from the scene. From SFGate:

A witness, Scott Kurth, was working at his computer when he saw a flash of light and heard a loud pop on a power pole at the intersection of Peralta Avenue and Hampshire Street, in the northern corner of Bernal Heights. The power went out in 34 homes at 5:04 p.m, according to PG&E spokesman J.D. Guidi.

Kurth did not see the impact but said a few minutes later that a man in his 30s came running up and admitted he had lost control of a drone he was flying at a nearby playground.

“He was talking to us, and we were looking for the drone with flashlights,” Kurth said. When PG&E arrived, the drone pilot moved on, Kurth said.

After power was restored, the crew searched for the drone but could not find any evidence of it, Guidi said.

PHOTO: PG&E crew working on power outage on Hampshire last night, courtesy of Neighbor Teresa

Thursday: City Hall Hearing to Review PG&E Safety in Bernal

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There have been several electrical transformer explosions in Bernal Heights recently, and PG&E’s equipment has been responsible for the accidents.

In 2013, a transformer exploded on Coleridge. Last September, another transformer exploded on Heyman Avenue, leaving two people with serious injuries. Throw in a disheartening series of blackouts, and confidence in PG&E’s Bernal Heights infrastructure is at a low ebb.

On Thursday afternoon, Dec 3, 2015 , District 9 Supervisor David Campos will hold a hearing in City Hall to investigate the safety of PG&E’s systems. His legislative aide, Sheila Chung Hagen, tells Bernalwood:

In response to the September PG&E transformer explosion in Bernal Heights that injured two people, Supervisor Campos called for a public hearing to understand what happened in Bernal Heights and what is happening across the city with PG&E’s transformers. Through the hearing, we want to learn what happened, and what safety measures will be put in place to ensure no harm comes to the public again.

What: A hearing on measures to ensure public safety around Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Company Transformers citywide
Date: Thursday, December 3, 2015
Time: 2:00pm
Location: Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee (Room 250, City Hall
Agenda: Here (See Item 2)

PHOTOS: The SFFD responds to the scene of a Dec. 8, 2013 PG&E transformer explosion on Bocana that left a PG&E employee badly burned. Photos courtesy of a Bernal Heights neighbor.

Yet Another PG&E Power Outage Leaves Bernal Neighbors Seething

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There was another power outage in Bernal Heights on Sunday morning, in the most recent in a series of localized blackouts and dangerous equipment failures that have left some Bernal neighbors questioning PG&E’s competence.

ABC7 carried a Bay City News report on Sunday’s incident:

Roughly 4,000 power customers in and around San Francisco’s Bernal Heights and Portrero Hill neighborhoods lost electricity Sunday morning after a PG&E equipment failure, according to utility officials.

The outage was reported at 8:32 a.m., after an unspecified equipment failure in the vicinity of 25th Street and Potrero Avenue. Crews on scene say rainwater ran down an electrical pole, causing a fire and the power outage.

Frustration with PG&E wasn’t hard to find:

It’s probably best to consider this a preview of coming attractions. With El Niño-grade winter storms still to come, this is a good time to remind all Bernalese to stock up on flashlights, lanterns, and batteries for future outages that are likely to follow.

Renderings Unveiled for Proposed 96 Units of Senior Citizen Housing on Shotwell

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YIMBYs rejoice! Renderings have finally been unveiled for a $40 million project to construct a nine-story building at 1296 Shotwell Street, just off Cesar Chavez, to provide 96 units of housing for lower-income senior citizens. Funding for the project will mostly come from a variety of public sources, including federal grants and San Francisco housing funds. Mission Local broke the story:

The Mission Economic Development Agency, an established neighborhood non-profit but a newcomer to the affordable housing game, is partnering once again with the experienced Chinatown Community Development Corporation to construct the senior housing complex. It will allocate 20 percent of its units to formerly homeless seniors and the remainder will go to seniors with annual incomes between $21,400 and $35,700.

This is great news, and we really need more housing, so your Bernalwood editor remains a big fan of this project even though it will definitely block some of my glamorous downtown view. Let’s build it! But let’s also look at some of the details:

Right now, 1296 Shotwell is basically a shed that’s home to a few automotive repair shops. The history of this project is intimately tied to the Vida market-rate development at 2558 Mission Street that also created the soon-to-open Alamo Drafthouse Cinema inside the restored New Mission theater. Vida is a 114-unit, market-rate project in which the developer opted to meet their inclusionary housing requirements by purchasing 1296 Shotwell Street as a land dedication site for use by San Francisco to create affordable housing. This means the City basically received the land at 1296 Shotwell for free. And presumably, since 1296 Shotwell will be senior housing, each of the units in the new building will be relatively small, although the height of the building gives it significant density. That probably explains why, even with donated land and many small units, 1296 Shotwell pencils out at the relatively low price of $417,000 per unit. Prop A, the affordable housing bond passed in the election this month, will help pay for 1296 Shotwell.

Also by way of context, the Mission neighborhood nonprofit partner for 1296 Shotwell is Mission Economic Development Agency. MEDA has been in operation since the 1970s, mostly as a community assistance organization providing educational and small-business support services to Latino families in the Mission. More recently, MEDA has branched out into housing development. MEDA was a major backer of the recent Proposition I push to establish a moratorium on market-rate housing in the Mission, and Gabriel Medina, MEDA’s policy director, managed the Yes On I campaign from MEDA’s headquarters at 2301 Mission Street. Prop I was rejected by voters in the election earlier this month.

Also, by way of further clarification, Bernalwood’s understanding is that 1296 Shotwell is separate from 1515 South Van Ness, the previously-discussed Lennar development that seeks to create 160 units of market-rate housing on the site of the former McMillan Electric warehouse (which was itself originally the site of the Lesher-Muirhead Oldsmobile dealership).  This diagram shows how the two proposed development sites fit together:

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As far as we know, none of the proposed developments will impact the (rather charming) Johns’s British Motor Car repair shop that fronts Cesar Chavez, nor the AutoZone store with its very fashionable view of Bernal Hill.

That’s a lot of change coming soon to one Bernal-adjascent block, but it it’s good to see positive efforts to put a dent in our housing shortage. At last.

Questions Remain as Regulators Probe Cause of PG&E Transformer Explosion

As the two victims of Saturday morning’s PG&E transformer explosion on Heyman recover from their injuries, outraged regulators (and Bernal neighbors) are demanding that PG&E provide a full accounting of how this accident happened. Ted Goldberg from KQED reports:

The California Public Utilities Commission has launched an investigation into an underground transformer explosion that injured two men in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood over the weekend.

The incident has also led [San Francisco D9 supervisor David Campos], who represents the area where the explosion took place, to call for a hearing into the safety of PG&E’s underground electricity infrastructure.

On Monday, Bernalwood sent a series of questions to PG&E regarding the cause of the accident and the history of the transformer unit that exploded. PG&E spokesperson Joe Molica told Bernalwood:

PG&E is conducting its own investigation into the incident in Bernal Heights on Saturday (Sept. 26) and will be bringing in a third-party firm to do an independent investigation.

Two individuals were injured when an underground transformer failed. PG&E employees were responding to a wire-down outage five blocks away. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the people who were injured.

PG&E conducted a patrol of the electric-distribution equipment in the neighborhood on June 4, 2015, with no issues. PG&E conducted a thorough inspection of the transformer in 2013.

In the past year there have been no circuit-level outages on this circuit.

You also asked about other incidents with transformers in Bernal. As you know, in late 2013, there was a transformer failure on a street several blocks away. That was a different situation with a different type of transformer, where a PG&E worker was making repairs when the transformer failed.

This left a several of our questions unanswered, so Bernalwood requested clarification of what a “patrol” entails. PG&E’s Molica explained:

PG&E’s investigation will include a forensic analysis of the failed equipment, researching the history of the circuit, looking into the specific cause of the incident and other actions.

Also, a patrol is a visible inspection of PG&E electric distribution facilities to identify obvious structural hazards or problems. An inspection is a more thorough examination of individual components of electric distribution facilities.

And what about the age of the transformer that exploded. When was it manufactured? When was it installed? Molica said:

I don’t know; however this will be part of the investigation.