California looking into utility pole safety, database

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- California has over 4.2 million utility poles, most standing about 40 to 45 feet tall. Some in rural areas or mountain tops can reach up to 80 feet. However, the state has no central data base to monitor maintenance and safety issues. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is looking to change that.

"Not having a single database that says who owns it, where it is, what's on it, what the condition of it is... We're sort of hindered," said Michael Picker, president of the CPUC.

The CPUC is holding a public meeting Monday evening in San Jose to solicit public comments about pole safety issues. Ahead of that, Commission President Michael Picker and former commissioner Catherine Sandoval went on a site inspection of poles. Ms. Sandoval believes are examples of potential problems. She and her law students at Santa Clara University have been cataloging photos of suspected pole hazards for two years. ABC7 News joined the tour, along with members of the CPUC staff, representatives of PG&E and a wireless carrier, a few members of the public, and some representatives from communications unions.

The first tour stop was Curtiss Avenue in San Jose's Willow Glen neighborhood where they saw a pole with equipment tied to it but not permanently secured. In high winds, Ms. Sandoval feared the equipment could fall on someone.

"The follow through just isn't there," said Ms. Sandoval. "A new pole was put up, and the facility (telecom equipment) should have been moved from the old pole within 60 days, and I know from visiting this pole personally, this has been like this for more than two months."

At the second stop, the tour group stood around a leaning PG&E pole on Booksin Avenue, which reportedly had made residents nervous. To the untrained eye, it appeared to be a hazard. However, Mike Swanson, director of PG&E's restoration compliance operations, explained that it was perfectly safe. The pole was leaning so that the conductors on top are positioned in parallel.

The CPUC says safety concerns will grow as more wireless services are placed on poles to meet demand.

The CPUC hearing starts at 5 p.m. Monday at the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors chambers.
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