🎶 It’s getting’, it’s gettin’, it’s gettin’ kinda hectic…

Today’s entry has a soundtrack.

The situation is bizarre from the outset. In the city of Mountain View, a battle rages between energy giant PG&E and the California Station Homeowners Association – a battle that has the new Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary School opening without electricity. PG&E claim they need to connect the school’s grid via an undeveloped corner property. The HOA claim they’ve tried to work out an easement, but PG&E refuses any deals that don’t include free and unrestricted access to the property for maintenance work and further construction. Meanwhile, the school’s running on a $35k a month, noisy, dirty gas generator that shuts off at 6pm, and the generator doesn’t power the elevators so the entire second floor is going unused (presumably to avoid running afoul of the ADA). There’s also no fire alarm, so the district’s hired some sort of modern-day town crier to act as a 24/7 fire lookout (how this person stays alert while sleeping is a mystery). I guess you could call it a learning experience in how children were educated in the Depression.

The school board and local government point the finger at the HOA for their belligerence, and although the article about the situation presents both sides, there’s an implicit agreement that the HOA isn’t being reasonable, with tortured descriptions of a dug-up road and images of cherubic tots deprived of a full scholarly experience.
Moseying on over to the comments section, this view is quickly backed up by BDBD, who says they “hope the board reads this article, sees this comment, and realizes they are putting their community in danger (…) all so that the neighborhood’s landscaped corner area (not even someone’s yard!) doesn’t have some kind of box or pole placed in it, with occasional visits by PG&E? Give me a break!”, with some guy chiming in “sounds like the school should park the generator on the street right next to the HOA, and run it 24/7” and Sylvan Park Neighbor upping the ante by proposing a type of 12 Angry Men or Battle Royale scenario: “locking PG&E reps and the HOA board in a room together for a day or until they reach an agreement might be the approach most likely to resolve the situation.”

The confusingly named PG&E blames… PG&E, for intruding on someone else’s property instead of putting the transformer on school grounds, while Al blames the district’s poor planning. You might be surprised to hear MVWSD Cock-up also puts the blame squarely on the district’s shoulders, as they failed to notify the HOA of any possible construction work and are now trying to shift the blame on the Association to mask their own poor scheduling. This seems to gel with Al’s description of another school in the same district having no hot water for an entire year while being brushed off by local government. Meanwhile, Bored M simply states:

“Check that out… a situation where there’s a legitimate use of Eminent Domain. I never thought I’d see one.”

For the uninformed, eminent domain allows the government to take private property, providing the owner with just compensation, and covert it to public use. Whether “public use” is justified by the situation ultimately comes down to the individual courts, but there’s a long history of this being done in the US. So, according to the comments, we have a Mexican standoff of blame and the threat of imminent government takeover.

🎶 It’s getting’, it’s gettin’, it’s gettin’ kinda hectic…

Thankfully, a member of the California Station HOA wrote up a guest post to shed some light (chortle chortle) on the situation. In his article, Jim Pollart explains that the HOA only heard from the school district seven weeks before the school year was set to start to install the power lines. Given that it takes six weeks of normal work to get this done, it’s obviously very late in the game. Pollart defends the HOA’s fiduciary duty to protect the community’s assets, and points out that PG&E have reviewed a rejected several easement offers, seemingly only wanting their original demand of total, free access to the property for the foreseeable future.

While some commenters, like Frank Smith, are quick to bring up eminent domain again, most people side with the HOA and submit additional stories of past district blunders, PG&E misconduct, and their own pet theories on what could be causing all this drama. LongResident, in particular, posts a long comment demonstrating considerable knowledge of the area’s woes with local government and the energy supplier, essentially laying out a theory by which PG&E is using this limited time frame and the threat of inconveniencing children to force through the installation of a new powerline/transformer that will give them access to a new neighborhood and expand their market, and that local government is agreeing to do this out of incompetence or a desire to avoid disturbing the local Google Daycare, which is situated in another place where the power could be run through. Obviously, this is all speculation, but it’s interesting to see what the local community thinks their elected officials truly care about. Disgruntlement towards Silicon Valley types and their comforts are dime a dozen, and so is frustration with big companies and bumbling leadership. These perceptions can seriously impact business in a community and the community itself – look up a couple of paragraphs to see people chomping at the bit to seize land and get the problems over with ASAP.

Ultimately, it seems Rossta sums it up best:

  • It appears the PGE is trying to use this to force a much more broad easement for them to solve problems beyond just getting power to the school and the school is a pawn they are sacrificing. Shameful, but not surprising.
  • It’s not clear that this would be a case for eminent domain, but even if it were, that should be a last resort – taking someone’s property by force isn’t nice.

It’s true, you know. It isn’t nice. But it’s legal, and it’s fascinating to see how willing people are to bring it up in cases of even comparatively mild local disputes.