CFAH


The discussion of 465 Hoffman turns to the undergrounding of utilities in San Francisco, a movement that carries a cost to homeowners but pays dividends in the form of increased curb appeal, views and overall neighborhood vibe.
Progress in San Francisco as mapped above thanks to a plugged-in reader (blue = completed, red = under construction) and in a larger format online. And yes, the utility pole in front of 465 Hoffman still stands (at least for now) despite being rendered without.
∙ San Francisco Utility Undergrounding: Progress Map | Task Force [SFGov]
465 Hoffman: Architects Unveiling This Evening (And On The Market) [SocketSite]

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by anon

    Undergrounding of the utilities is supposed to take 100 years in this city. Check out the report at: Utility undergrounding. Its unbelievable how long and how costly it is to get anything done in this city!

  2. Posted by justin

    Fantastic Link. Check out the map of what has been completed….
    http://www.sfgov.org/site/uploadedfiles/sfdpw/bsm/utility_undergrounding/UgdMap.pdf
    Bsaically, almost anyone living in the western half of the city, or south of Market has been overlooked in favor of completing undergrounding in Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights and the Marina. Why am I not surprised! The neglect of the Sunset and Richmond, as well as Noe and other southern neighborhoods is incredible.

    • Posted by Brian Sedar

      Hi, do you still have a copy of utility_undergrounding/UgdMap.pdf. Even if circa the 2009 date of your SocketSite discussion. City of SF no longer has this resource available online. Much appreciated if you do.

  3. Posted by Sleepiguy

    Just for the record, the undergrounding of various utilities and elimination of poles in the nicer parts of D7 (Pac Heights, etc) was in no small part paid for by the residents of those blocks.

  4. Posted by Trip

    My wife has done a lot of work on undergrounding at the city attorney’s office. About 90% of undergrounding costs are paid for by the utilities (PG&E, etc.) — those costs are passed on to all ratepayers by the CPUC. It is true that the remaining 10% is paid for by the city and property owners. But those property owners where undergrounding has been completed have been hugely subsidized by all ratepayers generally. It is very expensive (debate whether it has to cost as much as it does), and it is unlikely that the pace will pick up because of the costs.

  5. Posted by anon94123

    Agreed. The same goes for Sea Cliff as well. The Marina got undergrounding because of the 1989 quake. It is interesting to note that even IF the city pays for a portion of the undergrounding, all homeowners can expect to be asked to “contribute” at least $2,000 dollars for the connection.
    ” Property owner financial responsibilities Property owners are required to pay for the conduit work required to accept utilities underground into their homes and properties. The estimated costs for installing conduit for a single family dwelling is approximately $1,500 to $2,500″

  6. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    $2K is a bargain for a homeowner to eliminate overhead wires. The problem is that the whole block will need to buy-in before the project starts. There are always a few hold-outs who either cannot afford an extra $2K or don’t want to bother.

  7. Posted by DanRH

    “There are always a few hold-outs who either cannot afford an extra $2K or don’t want to bother.”
    how does a neighborhood figure out if there is hold-outs that are delaying the process for that area?

  8. Posted by Conifer

    If you look carefully at the map, there are some very nice blocks in Pac Hts (parts of Washington, Jackson, Broadway, Vallejo, Green) that have not yet been undergrounded. Does anyone know why, specifically?

  9. Posted by SFer

    justin: I too am saddened by the lack of activity in the Sunset and Richmond. Though if you look at the Sunset around 28th Avenue and Lincoln area you can see that Parkway Terrace has gotten the job done already! I don’t remember when they did this, but it definitely changed the look of that area. Granted though that some of the houses there are on-par with houses on Funston Ave (large, distinct unattached houses with a “front yard”).

  10. Posted by kthnxybe

    Yep the only parts of the Richmond that are undergrounded are certain parts of North-of-Lake and Seacliff. Hrmph.

  11. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    DanRH – In my case, the utility made the proposal and then withdrew it because not enough neighbors were willing to buy-in. My out-of-pocket cost would have been in the range of $2-5k to rewire the connection from the main cable in the new underground trench to the house’s service entry. Still a bargain at even $5k.
    I wasn’t told who the hold-outs were and I did not pry into that issue as I know that several of my neighbors have difficult financial situations.
    I think that what really happens is that if 90%+ of the owners on a block buy-in then there’s room for those relatively cash rich neighbors to subsidize the poorer (or perhaps just plain stubborn) neighbors. After all what’s the difference between $5000 and $5500 ? Both are a bargain and you’ll see a much larger increase in your home value. Not only is the blight made invisible, but your street trees don’t need to get bad haircuts every 5 years to keep their branches out of the power lines.
    I’ll bet that “subsidize the holdouts” effect is part of the reason why so many Pac Heights streets are complete. I’d bet that some of those blocks contain a single resident who’s willing to subsidize the entire street (not that there would be such extreme stubbornness !)

  12. Posted by lark

    We live on Potrero hill and our block has been undergrounded. I pity the folks who have not gotten this, it’s great, really makes a difference.
    My sense is that it’s driven by residents. No conspiracy there. The problem is it takes so long that most of the residents who organized for it don’t get to enjoy it. I think it was at least a decade, from start of organizing to finished job,in our neighborhood.

  13. Posted by EBGuy

    I too am saddened by the lack of activity in the Sunset and Richmond.
    I just did a hand count of the foreclosures (NOD, NoTS, and bank owned) in the Outer Sunset and the total is up to 40 now. These residents are unable to pay their mortgages, let alone underground their utilities. I also tend to doubt that owners who are “trapped in forever” with their current financing have undergrounding as a priority either.

  14. Posted by dan

    the progress map is not quite accurate. Waller St between Castro and Steiner was undergrounded a few years ago.

  15. Posted by curmudgeon

    Parts of my neighborhood in Dolores Heights were undergrounded in the mid-90’s by initiative of the property owners. The decision on where to underground was made on a block by block basis, and a certain percentage of owners had to agree (i’m not aware of the percentage…the vote took place before I moved in). This method resulted in a somewhat bizarre patchwork that is certainly not ideal.
    I am so glad my block agreed, because the difference is amazing.

  16. Posted by Mole Man

    When PG&E went under because of the energy crisis that took down the previous Governor undergrounding was thrown into chaos. Everything goes through the utility which means that all projects compete. My peninsual neighborhood has been pushing undergrounding along our main street for an age, but PG&E has sat on the project since the first half was completed back in 1998.
    While undergrounding is in general a good thing, there are issues to be aware of. As Palo Alto has found by being a pioneer of undergrounding, utility lines become more difficult to maintain and upgrade and also more vulnerable to flooding and storm damage. This means that it is expensive to put in place a system that results in more frequent need for service and more expense with every service. One approach for dealing with this is to bury large conduits that include room for different types of infrastructure, access, and emergency drainage, but that solution requires even greater up front expense and disruption similar to tunneling.

  17. Posted by Be Right

    Doesn’t anyone get a kick out of seeing an old pair of tennis shoes hanging from overhead wires in the middle of the street….

  18. Posted by redseca2

    Amazing number of streets where the undergrounding has been completed, BUT you may never notice because the street is still on an electric bus line.

  19. Posted by theo

    To me, electric bus wires look quite different. They’re further from the houses, thinner, don’t sag, don’t have lots of ground wires and cable coax and crappy looking transformers hanging all over.
    Electric bus wires look like a fairly modern European city.
    Utility wires look like quickie post-quake construction jobs.
    YMMV although it’s always better with electric motors 🙂

  20. Posted by Dan

    Like curmudgeon’s ‘hood, our patch of north Bernal (barely visible on the map) got undergrounded because of proactive residents in the early ’90’s. My neighbor and I spoke to every homeowner on our block and got them on board, and designated neighbors on 3 neighboring blocks did the same. At that time, any four contiguous blocks could get undergrounded by homeowners petitioning and agreeing to pay a share of the cost. We agreed to pay more than we ultimately had to pay– which was to a private contractor to hook up our homes to the new underground wires.
    Our job was made easier by the fact that most of the homes in our ‘hood were occupied by the owners– it would have been much harder to get absentee landlords to agree to pay.
    We have great views in our ‘hood, and it makes such a difference for them to be unobstructed by wires.

  21. Posted by NoeValleyJim

    What happens during a quake? Is it better or worse to have your lines buried during a quake?

  22. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    NoeValleyJim – I have no data but can make an educated guess that undergrounded wires are a little better. Wires on poles will swing and whip in a string quake and possibly break. My brother witnessed this during the Loma Prieta (whipping but not breaking).
    I doubt there is much chance a surface rupture severing underground cables. Surface ruptures caused by quakes are rare and when they occur they are often small enough that the cable slack can absorb the offset.
    Landslides are another story but those would seem to threaten either utility installation.

  23. Posted by San FronziScheme

    Re: earthquakes
    For me, overhanging wires are a major danger during earthquakes. I mean if we ever have something big happen (crossing my fingers this is not gonna happen anytime soon), broken power lines and nasty chemical stuff (from the clunky “car batteries” in utility boxes) falling down are a big big issue.
    As I said in the original thread: this reminds me of a southern African country I spent some time in. On very windy days the wires would dangle so much you had the inevitable wire crossings and resulting power outages. They couldn’t afford burying the wires, but in addition they were saving on poles by increasing spacing. Skimping on utilities or any other infrastructure always has a cost down the road.

  24. Posted by somareality

    I can’t tell you what a difference it makes to have our utilities underground. We have spent a fair amount to work with friends of the Urban Forest to plant numerous trees and our block is a magically beautiful alley in SOMA.
    I once spoke to PG&E about the underground utilities and it seemed to me that the best approach is to organize all the nieghbors and petition to have it done. Squeaky wheel!

  25. Posted by NoeNeighbor

    Undergrounding looks great and is supposed to be significantly better in an earthquake. However, I disagree with the notion that overhead electric bus wires are somehow less intrustive or more european. They are just an ugly blight — plus they don’t seem to be that reliable (given the number of times I see bus drivers at the back of the buss fiddling with them). I would happily see them entirely eliminated but I don’t know if there is a good alternative.

  26. Posted by Rubicon

    View homes in Tiburon along Paradise Dr. only recently got their wires underground too.

  27. Posted by DavidQ

    NoeNeighbor:
    any regular bus rider has seen the clips come off of those lines, but it doesn’t happen very often. More importantly for the quality of life discussion, if you live on or near a bus line, there’s a major difference between the relatively quiet whine of an electric bus driving away and the diesel roar of a standard one. This goes triple if you live on a hill. The only way to eliminate the wires and keep the bus from spitting smoke and noise is to go to electric batteries, which Ain’t Gonna Happen any time soon.

  28. Posted by San FronziScheme

    This goes triple if you live on a hill.
    DavidQ,
    The 39-Coit is one example. Union street is covered in thin soot from Kearny to Montgomery and I pity the people on Union…

  29. Posted by theo

    What DavidQ said. I’ll take the wires over the noise any day.
    I lived on a hilly electric bus line and got more noise pollution from the diesel bus running on a level street half a block away than from the electric bus running right by my window. The most annoying thing about the bus was actually the automated stop announcements, which I could hear quite clearly.
    It’s remarkable how reliable the wire-pantograph system is, when properly maintained. 30 mph isn’t a problem, nor is the hairpin turn the 33 makes at Market.

  30. Posted by Life Beyond Yelp

    District 11 here. And I’m sure that I’m speaking for large parts of the Sunset and Richmond as well. I agree that undergrounding utilities would eliminate ONE eyesore, but to me the most ugly thing is sidewalk parking. If I’d have to choose which one to eliminate, I would chose the cars on the sidewalks. Aboveground utilities have some charm. That being said, bring it on. I’d gladly pay the $2k, if I was ever asked. I’m not holding my breath…

  31. Posted by Amen Corner

    In earthquake country, undergrounding of electric cables is a safety issue. The utilities should never have been allowed to run them on poles on the first place.

  32. Posted by john

    I have to laugh at this from another perspective. When my wife and I bought our home in 1981 in the Crocker-Amazon, PG&E promised that we, along with our neighbors, would soon get what just about all of San Francisco(except us) and the rest of the Bay Area have, high pressure natural gas service. We are still waiting.

  33. Posted by J Wiggin

    Map is not up to date; there are recently completed districts that are not shown. City staff is not up to speed on this.
    Only way to seriously address undergrounding in the avenues is to have a dedicated funding source that allows continuous work to make economies of scale possible. Utility users tax of 5%, dedicated to this effort, may make it possible.
    Recently completed City water pumping station has an overhead electrical service. Stupid and not understandable to me. It’s part of the problem.
    PG&E says currently that undergrounding funding for all rate payers equals 5 cents a month! If it were $1.00 a month — well, you get the picture.
    Finally, undergrounding in Southern California is much less costly. They also underground 69KV lines routinely. PG&E is the real problem in undergrounding. They fight it at every instance.

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