SF leaders call for hearing over power outage

San Francisco power outage
Muni and BART trains were knocked out of service at Montgomery Station during a citywide power outage April 21.

San Francisco supervisors are calling for a hearing over the response from PG&E during last Friday’s citywide power outage that affected 88,000 PG&E customers.

On Tuesday, the President of the Board of Supervisors London Breed along with Supervisor Aaron Peskin, are asking PG&E to explain what happened on Friday, which began with a fire at a PG&E power substation that left a large portion of The City without power from 9 a.m. to approximately 5 p.m.

The power outage wrecked havoc to traffic as 300 traffic lights went dark and caused BART to close the Montgomery Station. BART and Muni trains were skipping the station. Crews from BART were able to hook up a backup power generator that allowed for trains from both transit systems to continue service at around 11:30 a.m.

Muni, though, had to stop cable car service for most of the day and some service on its electric trolley buses.

PG&E customers were left with many questions as the PG&E power outage map showed no signs of a power outage during the first hour of the outage. City officials were also left with few answers on what was going on, said Peskin:

“I know I’ve reached out to other members who had part of their district blacked out, and the communication from PG&E was nonexistent and from the Department of Emergency Management was sorely lacking.”

Breed said the power outage caused quite a disruption to The City as businesses had to close, elevators had stopped working with people inside and two hospitals — California Pacific Medical Center Pacific Campus and Saint Francis Memorial Hospital — running on backup power generators:

“If we look at Friday as a test of our city’s response to a massive power outage, and how our agencies communicate and collaborated in the emergency that had potential to have serious public safety impacts, I would have to say we failed.”

Breed added:

“Too little information was shared with too few city agencies. People were left stranded. Officials were left flat-footed.”

Barry Anderson, vice president of electric distribution for PG&E, said Friday that there was “catastrophic failure” of a circuit breaker, which caused a fire at a PG&E power substation near Larkin and Eddy streets.

Anderson added that PG&E is in the process of modernizing its power substations that still use old equipment such as the station on Larkin Street. Work on the Larkin Street station he said will begin sometime next year.

Mayor Ed Lee said Monday that he has been in contact with PG&E CEO Geisha J. Williams. He said Williams has been very open on investigating the Friday outage:

“I think they really need look at all their substations. See what’s old and make that investment.”

Lee added that he is also working with PG&E so that businesses and The City can start the reimbursement process:

“They do deserve a reimbursement for that. It wasn’t their fault at all.”

San Francisco needs to do better job next time when an emergency occurs, said Breed:

“We got it off easy this time, but next time it might be another story and we must do all we can to be proactive and be prepared.”

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay and covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a San Francisco native and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Follow Jerold on Twitter @jerold_chinn. Email tips to

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