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.

Graffiti Removed, For Now, as Sutrito Tower Facility Gets a Coat of Paint

Sutrito Tower post-graffiti removal

Sutrito Tower has long been plagued by graffiti — not street art, not murals, just ugly, boring tags.

American Tower, which owns the facility, occasionally paints over it, but the company recently allowed some of the tags to linger for a long time. There’s one that says “TRUST NO HOE!” (charming) in this picture from January 2014 that was still there until very recently: IMG_0806

Now, it’s all gone. There’s new fencing, upgraded security lighting, and even barbed wire around most of the perimeter, which isn’t very attractive. Yet it might be worth it, if it actually keeps the taggers out.

If it doesn’t (which seems likely, given this site’s history), why not get rid of the fencing entirely? Like it was when Sutrito Tower was first built, in 1963.

Removing the fence would take the “adventure” out of tagging this building, and make it convenient for neighbors to paint over it without waiting years for American Tower to get around to cleaning up the mess.

Sutrito Tower post-graffiti removal

PHOTOS: Joe Thomas

Restored Esmeralda Slide Park Wins Fabulous San Francisco Beautiful Award


Remember just a few short months ago, when the historic and symbolic Esmeralda Slide Park was a sad ruin?

Blighted by the decaying forces of time, The City had to remove some of the wooden structures before they collapsed. Then came the rallying cry, and the heroic volunteer effort, and then the mini-park was restored and reborn. And now it’s won an amazing beautification award from San Francisco Beautiful.

Neighbors Joan Carson and Nancy Windensheim worked their tail-feathers off to make this happen, and without them, none of this would have happened. Here’s what they had to say about the recognition:

For all you folks who were waiting for the results of who is the winner of the SF Beautiful Award…

Being a nominee was cool enough, but Esmeralda Slide Park just went on record as the 2015 recipient of the Seven Hills Award.  This Award “recognizes nominees who have made a significant contribution to the creation of unique neighborhood character.”

There were 7 award categories and a winner for each. It’s very fitting Esmeralda Slide Park got the Seven Hills Award. Everybody knows Bernal is the ‘hood with the kick-ass slide; Now folks see we not only have the great slide, we have a plaza and park that is also awesome. It’s going to get even better, so stay tuned for more!

Hurray for our fabulous community, and bravo to everyone who has worked and will continue to work on the Esmeralda Slide Park.

See you at Esmeralda!

We did it! Our slides are both ass-kicking and award-winning.  Kind of like Kanye West, but with a much better attitude.

Most of all, a lot of very special thanks are due to Neighbors Nancy and Joan, who lead the charge to reconstruct the Esmeralda mini-park and make it better than ever. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Very, very well done, ladies:


PHOTOS: Courtesy of Neighbors Nancy and Joan

Esmeralda Slide Park, Now Beautifully Renovated, Nominated for SF Beautiful Award


Neighbor Joan Carson, one of the valiant ringleaders who helped organize the glamtastic renovation of the Esmeralda Slides and Mini-Park, shares this update on the new sign over the park, and some (well-deserved) recognition it’s receiving around town:

There’s a new sign over the Esmeralda Slide Park, designed by Nancy Windesheim and constructed by me. The sign is prominently displayed on the trellis above our planter box, with the new plantings installed by volunteers on August 15, the second workday we had.

Most of all, we want to tell everyone who reads Bernalwood that we are one of the many esteemed nominees for a 2015 SFBeautification award.  San Francisco Beautiful is a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the livability and beautification of San Francisco. For 44 years, they have been recognizing people and places who contribute to the City’s livability and beautification.

The nominees are showcased on the SF Beautiful’s Facebook page. We’re there, and if you’re excited like we are, please “like” us.

Everyone who dedicated themselves to making this rebuild happen should feel very proud. There are a number of projects that happened this year in the City that are really special, and we can find ourselves amongst them.

Whether we win an award on Sept. 17 or not, the recognition of being a nominee in the company of all the other special projects nominated, puts us in the best of company!

Citizens of Bernalwood, you know what to do: Please help stuff the ballot box by adding your Likes and gushy comments right here.

PHOTO: Neighbor Joan

A Huge Group Hug For Helping to Make the Esmeralda Mini-Park More Fabulous Than Ever


Last weekend, a glorious group of Bernal Heights volunteers gathered at the Esmeralda Mini-Park to help restore and rebuild the park (and the secret slides) to a new state of fabulous.

Around 40 Bernalese showed up to lend a hand, and the results look rather spectacular. The trellis has been sturdily rebuilt. The planter boxes are beefy and better than ever. The slide has a new launch deck up top and a new rubberized landing below. New retaining walls hold the hillside in place. It was a great scene while the work was happening, and Neighbor Carl Nolte even showed up to write about it for The Chronicle:

They say all politics is local. And so are all cities worth their salt. They are villages, neighborhoods. I found that out just the other day by walking up my street in Bernal Heights. […]

The [Esmeralda] project’s biggest triumph came Saturday, when more than three dozen neighbors showed up as part of District Nine community day to work on the park and the steps. The city lent tools, technical advice, even a free lunch.

This year’s Esmeralda project is a bit of a reprise of an old neighborhood tune on Bernal Heights. Back in 1978, a different group of neighbors got the city to build the park and put in landscaping in the first place.

Seriously. Go check out the park. It looks so great.

And for that, some super-extra-very-heavy-duty special thanks are due to Neighbors Joan Carson and Nancy Windesheim, who live near the mini-park. Say hello:

Neighbors Joan and Nancy did the grunt-work to organize the effort to get the project funded and make sure it was done right. Without them, none of this would have happened. None of it.

Yesterday Neighbors Joan and Nancy wrote Bernalwood to share a few thank-yous of their own:

To everyone that came out on Saturday for the Esmeralda Slide Park Workday. —Thank you!

To Mohammed Nuru, Director of DPW, Larry Stringer, Deputy Director for Operations DPW, and Kevin Sporer, Superintendent of DPW Bureau of Building Repair —  Thank you for going the extra mile to make this rebuild a success.

To the DPW work crew, especially Carpentry, Painting, Street Environmental Services, and Urban Forestry — Thank you.

To David Campos and his aide Hillary Ronen — Thank you.

We all love this Park. And with the help of the Department of Public Works (DPW), Campos’ office, and hardworking volunteers, we are keeping it that very special place.

The planter box and trellis are back and beautiful. The benches and picnic table will be back within a couple of weeks.

Your help was so appreciated and we will continue to reach out when opportunities arise. If you can help, great. If not, maybe next time. One thing we can all do (as we’re using the area or just walking through it) is to encourage slide users to take their used cardboard with them. When left behind, it leaves a big mess.

If you want to remain active on volunteering your time for upcoming workdays on Esmeralda Slide Park, RSVP Joan Carson at jcartist5691 AT

Nancy and I really couldn’t have done this without all of you so, once again: THANK YOU.

PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

How to Get Involved NOW to Help Rebuild the Esmeralda Slide Park Plaza


Neighbors Nancy and Joan have been meeting with folks from Supervisor Campos’s office, and they bring an urgent update on the effort to rebuilt and revive the Esmeralda/Winfield Slide Park Plaza. Here’s how you can help:

Everybody is on board to rebuild the plaza structures. We do have initial support from DPW. The cost to rebuild the planter box, trellis, and benches is greater than the $20k generously allocated from Campos’ office to DPW for the rebuild. DPW has agreed to go back to the Mohammed Nuru (the Director of DPW) to see what additional funds can be had, if any. Meanwhile, we’ve been advised to apply for the Community Challenge Grant. This grant happens annually and allows communities to apply for matching funds for community projects.

There is a Community Grant Workshop this Saturday, July 11.

Neighbor Joan will be attending with regards to the Esmeralda Slide Park Plaza rebuild. This grant is the best way for us to start moving forward with our community input to make the rebuild happen.

Please RSVP if you plan on attending.

If you’re interested in being actively involved in the Esmeralda Slide Park Plaza rebuild, please email nancy*AT*

We need volunteers to make this project happen… so please Get Onboard!

PHOTO: Esmeralda/Winfield Slide Plaza on June 16, 2015 (now removed). Photo by Nancy Wildensheim

Competing Petitions Disagree on New Lane Reduction in Bernal Cut


Neighbor Chris from St. Mary’s recently wrote Bernalwood to say:

Wondering what you think about the new San Jose Ave exit on 280. It’s like a pinball machine there now, even on off commute hours. Two exit lanes still exit, but now they merge into 1 within 100 feet, and it’s always backed up way before the underpass so you also have to stop suddenly. I get that the car culture needs to change, but it has to happen subtly. My girlfriend found the person at MTA responsible for the new configuration and let him have it.

It’s true; traffic patterns northbound through the Bernal Cut have changed, and there have been multiple big accidents there as a result. Meanwhile, it seems Neighbor Chris’s concerns are not uncommon, because Streetsblog reports

The redesign of San Jose Avenue took a step forward a month ago when Caltrans removed a traffic lane on a Highway 280 off-ramp leading on to San Jose, a.k.a. the Bernal Cut. The plan is the result of decades of neighborhood advocacy for safer streets, but it is running into opposition from motorists who won’t stand for the road diet.

Supporters and opponents of the project are duking it out with online petitions, both launched a month ago. The opposition’s petition currently has a lead on the supporters’ petition. The SFMTA hasn’t released the results from its survey from last fall.

On the bright side, no matter which side of this issue you agree with, there’s a petition you can sign.

PHOTO: I-280 at San Jose Accident, June 19, 2005, by Neighbor Jeremy Ambers