Residents ponying up big bucks to battle power linesBy Thomas Leupold
Some residents of San Mateo, Burlingame and Hillsborough are ponying up big bucks--in some cases as much as $5,000--to wage an effort to stop Pacific Gas and Electric from upgrading power lines near their homes.
The group, which calls itself 280 Corridor Concerned Citizens, is aiming to raise $400,000 to cover anticipated legal bills. It was already retained the services of Davis Wright Tremaine, a legal firm that helped stop a proposed PG&E development in Pleasanton.
Katie Carlin, who is helping raise money for the group, is donating $5,000 herself and is asking other impacted residents to make a contribution.
"We've asked people living along the line to donate between $l,000 and $5,000," Carlin said.
In addition, Carlin is hoping to get smaller donations from the broader community.
The group has been setting periodic goals for itself and most recently achieved its June goal of collecting $60,000 toward the $400,000 total.
The group wants to stop PG&E from moving forward with the Jefferson-Martin transmission project, which would add a 230 kilovolt line to an existing set of 60 kilovolt power lines running from a substation near Edgewood Park to San Bruno.
The plan is in the hands of the California Public Utilities Commission, which is waiting on a document that will outline the project's environmental impacts before making a decision.
The new lines won't deliver power to any of the three communities opposing the plan, but PG&E said the upgrade could improve reliability in Burlingame. That's because the lines can be used to reroute power when there is a failure elsewhere, PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno said.
Moreno notes that there is almost no power generated on the Peninsula and that the demand for energy is increasing.
Residents, however, aren't convinced that it will be worth it.
Lara Lighthouse, the head of the Burlingame part of the group, fears that the electromagnetic fields from the much more powerful lines could cause health problems for her family.
Electromagnetic fields, or EMFs, have been a controversial area of study. A 2002 California Department of Health Services report concludcd that there is a link between high levels EMFs and increased risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig's Disease and miscarriage. However, those results are not universally accepted by scientists, and study continues.
Lighthouse is particularly concerned about her 4-year-old son and isn't willing to take a chance on his health. She's going to contribute between $2,000 and $3,000.
The residents might get some of their money back--at the expense of PG&E--if a judge decides that their efforts were in the public interest. That could happen even if they lose their fight.
Lighthouse is convinced they won't.
"Our lawyers have beat PG&E in the past," Lighthouse said. "We are not going to lose this."
Copyright ©2003 Burlingame Daily News. Published 06/16/2003.