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El Cerrito squirrels have a long track record of causing East Bay power outages

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An El Cerrito squirrel pondering a power grab while on a PG&E utility pole in El Cerrito.

The electrical outage that hit the East Bay this week dominated locally focused folks on social media, particularly when a squirrel that got into the Schmidt Lane substation in El Cerrito was named by PG&E as the culprit.

Twitter buzzed with comments, snark and speculation on the rodent that left several cities and some 45,000 households in the dark.

India Today: Squirrel causes massive power outage in US: The squirrel entered the substation in El Cerrito caused the outage…

Gimme Sympathy ‏@weresoclose Squirrel assault shuts down East Bay: In a clandestine raid last night, squirrels shut down an El Cerrito, …

DarkandWondrous ‏@DarkandWondrous: several yrs ago I was in El Cerrito nr that substation—heard a SSSZZT as a squirrel became circuit&power cut

Chris Preimesberger ‏@editingwhiz Jun 8: A squirrel got zapped in a power station in El Cerrito, knocking out power to 45,000 homes and businesses. Sheesh.

Zach ‏@BarroldBonds Jun 8 45,000 people in the East Bay lost power b/c a squirrel got into a substation in El Cerrito and chewed on something. Ya couldn’t make it up.

One commenter said it sounded like a squirrel terrorist attack, another speculated that the squirrel was a “scaperodent” used by PG&E to hide the real reason of the outage.
But the fact is, squirrels dying on suicide missions at the Schmidt Lane substation and bringing the East Bay to its knees is nothing new, as these examples from the Contra Costa Times archives show. In one case the guilty rodent was placed in a plastic bag and stored in a PG&E freezer in Oakland (hopefully not near an employee’s TV dinner) as evidence in case any claims came in against the utility. As the spokesperson noted, blackout by squirrel is considered an “act of nature” and not the utility’s fault. And the nature of squirrels in El Cerrito is to get into the substation and wreak havoc with the equipment. They are a crafty bunch and we suspect there is a large stash of acorns hidden somewhere in the PG&E substation.

Squirrel sparks electricity outage
About 28,000 PG&E customers in Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito and Richmond lacked power for three hours Wednesday
Publication: West County Times
Print Run Date: 5/23/2002
Dateline: EL CERRITO
An errant squirrel met an unfortunate end Wednesday when its encounter with a circuit breaker at a Pacific Gas & Electric substation in El Cerrito knocked out power to thousands of customers temporarily and knocked out the squirrel permanently.
About 28,000 customers lost power at 12:10 p.m. The outage affected homes and businesses in El Cerrito, Richmond and parts of north Berkeley and Albany. Power was flowing to all customers by 3:04 p.m.

Police reported no major problems tied to the outage. Richmond police did take to major intersections to direct traffic in place of dark traffic lights. The city’s Civic Center turned to its emergency generators.

Temporary stop signs were posted at less busy Richmond and El Cerrito intersections.

“We have animals interacting with our equipment occasionally, ” said PG&E spokesman Jason Alderman. “Something of this magnitude is rare.”

Alderman said substations are fenced in and the vegetation around them cut back, in part, to discourage curious wildlife. But given the amount of PG&E equipment and the number of critters, the occasional run-in is inevitable.

The deceased squirrel is now resting in peace in a plastic bag in an Oakland freezer, preserved as evidence for customers seeking proof that their spoiled meat and unset video cassette recorders were not the utility’s doing, Alderman said.

“If it’s an act of nature, as a squirrel is, then we’re not responsible for it, ” Alderman said.

Most customers understand, Alderman said, but “every once in a while, if someone is particularly litigious, the squirrel will be put in a cooler and taken to court.”

Squirrel cuts power to 25,000
Publication: West County Times
Print Run Date: 11/6/2000
Twenty-five thousand customers from El Cerrito to Oakland lost power Sunday morning after a squirrel got inside a transformer at an El Cerrito substation.
The power was out from about 10:25 to 11:55 a.m., said Maureen Bogues, spokeswoman for Pacific Gas & Electric.

A BART spokeswoman, Jeanie Riehl, said the power went out at 10:20 a.m. at the Berkeley BART station.

Most of the customers who lost power were in Berkeley, Bogues said.

The Berkeley BART station was closed at 10:20 a.m. after the station went dark, and it was reopened at noon, Riehl said.

Train power was not affected and service went on as scheduled, except that trains did not stop at the Berkeley station, she said.

Electrocuted squirrel causes power outage
Publication: West County Times
Print Run Date: 11/28/1999
EL CERRITO About 37,000 East Bay homes and businesses lost power Saturday afternoon after a squirrel crawled into a transformer at an El Cerrito substation and was electrocuted, a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokesman said.
The downtown Berkeley BART station briefly closed because of the outage, which began at 2:23 p.m., but it reopened at 3:08. Berkeley public-radio station KPFA had to shift to an emergency power generator during the outage.

The squirrel’s electrocution caused the circuit breakers to kick over, spokesman Jonathan Franks said. Affected PG&E customers in El Cerrito, central Berkeley, Emeryville and Albany were without power until after 3 p.m. By rerouting electricity, PG&E restored power to all except about 7,900 customers by 3:05 p.m., said PG&E spokesman Ron Low, and the rest were back in service as of 3:20 p.m.

A similar outage occurred July 4, when another curious squirrel found its way into the El Cerrito substation and was killed.

Power outage caused by curious squirrel
West County Times
Print Run Date: 7/5/1999
A power outage that affected some 38,000 customers in the East Bay on Saturday was caused by a squirrel getting into an El Cerrito substation’s transformer bank, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said.

The problem began around 12:50 p.m. and lasted until 2:10 p.m., said the utility’s Maureen Bogues. It affected customers in El Cerrito, Kensington, Richmond, Albany, Berkeley and Oakland, she said.

The outage was widespread because the transformer bank feeds three substations in Berkeley, Bogues said.

Wayward squirrel blamed for outage
West County Times
Print Run Date: 6/23/1998
El Cerrito — A squirrel that scurried into an area it shouldn’t have is being blamed for the loss of electricity to about 3,400 customers in parts of El Cerrito, Kensington, Albany and North Berkeley on Monday afternoon.
The squirrel got into a circuit breaker at the substation at the end of Schmidt Lane in El Cerrito about 1:20 p.m., said Chris Johnson, a PG&E spokesman.

Workers restored power gradually, and all the customers had electricity by 3:30 p.m., Johnson said.

The squirrel died, Johnson said.

Squirrels, birds and rats are common sources of power outages, although PG&E takes measures to keep them off equipment, Johnson said.

By comparison, the squirrels in Lafayette simply aren’t as determined or well-connected.

Squirrel is responsible for power outage

Publication: Contra Costa Times
Print Run Date: 7/28/1995
LAFAYETTE – A squirrel short-circuited some electrical equipment, cutting power to nearly 3,000 people Thursday morning, a PG&E spokeswoman said.
The outage happened about 7:45 a.m. at Stanley Boulevard and Vacation Drive and cut power to about 2,900 customers in Lafayette and a small portion of Walnut Creek. The outage also cut power to numerous stop-lights and snarled the morning commute going to Highway 24 through Lafayette.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. crews had power restored to 85 percent of the customers by 9 a.m., said Diane Sable, a company spokeswoman. The remaining customers were expected to have power back by noon, she said.

The squirrel didn’t make it, Sable said.

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El Cerrito squirrels are adept at traversing the city’s electrical distribution infrastructure.

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El Cerrito squirrels have been known to gather in gangs to hatch their plots.

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The Schmidt Lane substation “is the terminus for high voltage electric lines bringing power from the distant Feather River.”

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El Cerrito police seek owner of springer spaniel

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The El Cerrito Police Department issued the following announcement Tuesday about a dog that was dropped off at the station:

An Older Springer Spaniel female was turned into the El Cerrito Police Department this afternoon. The dog was turned over to Contra Costa Animal Services and taken to the animal shelter in Pinole. Please contact Animal Services in Pinole at 510-374-3966 for more information.

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Richmond: Catahoula Coffee hosting Urban Tilth farm stand of locally grown produce May 24

Richmond community agriculture group Urban Tilth (www.urbantilth.org) will hold a farm stand outside Catahoula Coffee Co., 12472 San Pablo Ave. in Richmond, on May 24 starting at 9 .m.

The group will offer “organic veggies to go with those burgers or to make that heathly and delicious salad you were dreaming of” for the Memorial Day weekend. Offerings will include Freshly harvested lettuce, Swiss chard, dino kale, and herbs such as rosemary, oregano and thyme.

Urban Tilth will also have vegetable starts for planting, including lettuce, tomatoes and sticky monkey flower; seed packets (decorated by students of Verde Elementary) of “Las Tres Hermanas” (squash, beans, corn) and fava beans; and herbal garden products such as bath salts and hand salve.

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El Cerrito mayor to give State of the City Address tonight

El Cerrito Mayor Mark Friedman will give his State of the City Address today (April 28) at the El Cerrito Democratic Club meeting at 6 p.m. at Mt. Zion Presbytarian Church, 545 Ashbury Ave. in El Cerrito.
The evening opens with a social time at 6 p.m., club business at 6:30, and Friedman’s talk at 7 p.m.
The address will be followed at 8 p.m. by a 30-minute talk by Greg Choi of Marin Clean Energy about Community Choice Aggregation and “Going Deep Green.”

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Hercules Library holding Teen Job Fair on April 28

The Hercules Library, 109 Civic Drive, is hosting a free Teen Summer Job Fair from 4 to 6 p.m. April 28 that will offer resources to provide teenagers assistance on finding employment.
Here is the announcement from the Hercules Library:

Teens get real life work advice from local community leaders in Hercules.

HERCULES, CA – April 24, 2015 – Teens glean great advice as local community leaders share their work experiences. On Tuesday April 28th from 4:00 to 6:00, local experts are coming to the Hercules Library to share tips on the job search, and on-the-job expectations.
Looking for work the first time can be daunting. The Hercules Library Teen Job Fair is designed to give teems a head start on the process. They will receive information on where to search for jobs, how to fill out employment applications and key interview tips. Teens will also learn the on-the-job expectations for when they are employed.
Not all work is found in the usual places. There will be resources on finding volunteer opportunities and internships as well. Denise Clarke of the Contra Costa County Office of Education presents the “earn and learn” approach. She will have information on resources throughout the county, including internships availlable through Kasiser-Permanente, Laney College and STEM Summer Camps.
Local H.R. guru Myrtle Dawana teaches how to turn volunteer experience and limited work experience into a more complete employment application. And local sales expert Bob Polacchi gives great guidance in selling yourself in the job interview.
Teresa Gonzalez, a Vocational Transitional Specialist from the West Contra Costa Unified School District, will enlighten teens on the process of getting a work permit through the school district.
The learning does not stop once a job has been obtained. Joseph Wong of McDonald’s will explain on-the-job expectations after an employee has been hired. Teens learn how to handle friends coming into their placed of employment, and how to take direction outside of the classroom.

No registration is required. For more details visit http://guides.ccclib.org/onebook/westcounty.

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Richmond: Still time to get tickets to benefit comedy show on April 26

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A few tickets are still available for the comedy shows on April 26 headlined by Ronnie Schell and Will Durst to benefit the Richmond Museum of History.
Shows will be at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Topline Theater, 1402 Marina Way South in Richmond.
A handful of tickets remain for the afternoon show and there are more than 30 available for the evening show, said museum Executive Director Melinda McCrary.
Richmond native Schell will emcee the shows and do some standup of his own between sets by Will Durst, Kivi Rogers and David Gee.
All of the comedians are donating their time and talents for the benefit show.
Tickets are $30 each, available at the Richmond Museum of History, 400 Nevin Ave.; online at richmondmuseum.org; or by calling 510-235-7387.

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West County Ed. Fund scholarship winners will be celebrated at April 30 ceremony in El Cerrito

The West County Ed. Fund has announced this year’s scholarship winners. Recipients will be recognized at a celebration on April 30 at El Cerrito High Schoo,.

Celebrating Excellence in Education:
Honoring Scholarship Recipients

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The Ed Fund, West Contra Costa County’s Public Education Fund, managed an extremely competitive scholarship application season this year. A total of 243 applications were received and reviewed by 66 volunteers to choose the top students with the grit and passion it takes to succeed in college and give back to their community. With the generous support of College Futures Foundation, Irene S. Scully Family Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, Schroeder Family Foundation, and Whittier Educational Foundation, $160,000 in scholarships will be awarded over the next academic year to 68 West Contra Costa Unified high school seniors to realize their college dreams.

The 2015 scholarship recipients from the West Contra Costa Unified School District will be honored and celebrated at the Ed Fund’s 27th Annual Soaring to Excellence Celebration on Thursday, April 30 from 6:30-9:00PM at El Cerrito High School’s Performing Arts Theater at 540 Ashbury Avenue in El Cerrito. One of the highlights of the evening will be hearing from two of the scholarship recipients speak to how they overcame all obstacles to become college-bound students. Tickets are $25 per person. To purchase your ticket, visit the Ed Fund website at www.edfundwest.org or call Zuhair at 510-233-1464.

You can also make a donation in tribute to a student to the Help a Student Soar to Excellence campaign at https://www.crowdrise.com/edfundscholarships/fundraiser/edfundwest. The campaign will culminate the night of the event.

Full list of 2015 Scholars
College Futures Foundation
Carlos Arauz-Hernandez, Kennedy High School
RaTrail Armstead, Kennedy High School
Lavonia Bobo, El Cerrito High School
Monet Boyd, El Cerrito High School
Saidy Brizuela, Richmond High School
Casina Butler, Kennedy High School
Astrid Flores Castillo, Richmond High School
Matthew Chamberlain, Middle College High School
Quincy Chapple, Pinole Valley High School
Alexis Garcia, Pinole Valley High School
William Garcia, Pinole Valley High School
Evelyn Corral Gonzalez, Richmond High School
Alexander Hagan, De Anza High School
Tyler Ho, Pinole Valley High School
Richard Howard, Vista High School
Tareke James, De Anza High School
Michael Jameson, Richmond High School
Jose Jimenez, De Anza High School
Latisha Katigbak, Hercules High School
Luis Ledesma, Leadership Public School – Richmond
Maggie Li, El Cerrito High School
Alfred Machacon, De Anza High School
Kenyatta Marcelous, El Cerrito High School
Christian Medina, Richmond High School
Andrea Munoz, Pinole Valley High School
Adrian Navarro, Richmond High School
Linda Ngo, De Anza High School
Luis Nunez, Kennedy High School
Francisco Ortiz, Kennedy High School
Mareiana Pembrook, El Cerrito High School
Cristina Pham, De Anza High School
Hannah Pham, Richmond High School
Yann Picouleau, Pinole Valley High School
Martin Ponce, De Anza High School
Andrew Preston, Richmond High School
Eva Arias Ramirez, Middle College High School
Serena Saelee, Middle College High School
Kimiko Satterfield, Middle College High School
Jay’La Donaville Smith, El Cerrito High School
Kimaree Solomon, Hercules High School
Nasario Sylvester, Kennedy High School
Ashley Tejada, Middle College High School
Keith Thomas, El Cerrito High School
Juliana Valencia, Leadership Public School – Richmond
Vanessa McMillon Vanbuskirk, Hercules High School
Deisy Villalobos, Richmond High School
Hero Vo, De Anza High School
Akeilah Ward-Hale, El Cerrito High School
Frederica Webster, De Anza High School
Brandon Wong, Hercules High School
Maria Zavala, Middle College High School

Ed Fund
Nanette Thompson, El Cerrito High School
Roberto Vega, Richmond High School

Irene S. Scully Foundation
Joan Binalinbing, Kennedy High School
Antonio Gonzales-Romero, Richmond High School
Dennis Pimentel, Richmond High School

James Irvine Foundation
Chi Chung, Hercules High School
Jing-Yi Chung, Hercules High School
Jasmine Gill, De Anza High School
Maria Nunez, Leadership Public School – Richmond
Jesus Pedraza, Richmond High School
Justin Rodriguez, El Cerrito High School
Brittany Tran, Pinole Valley High School

Schroeder Family Foundation
Lauren Darnell, El Cerrito High School
Jomoris Stewart, El Cerrito High School

Whittier Educational Foundation
Luis Perez Rodriguez, Kennedy High School
Daniella Vela, El Cerrito High School
Brizjon Wilright, De Anza High School

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El Cerrito: Historic adobe lost in arson fire 59 years ago today

The building once considered to be the most historic structure in Contra Costa County was destroyed in an arson fire on April 21, 1956.
Just 11 days earlier a city council member’s bid to preserve the landmark Castro adobe had been rejected by his colleagues as because it was considered an impediment to the construction of the planned El Cerrito Plaza shopping center. The developers were adamant that the center could not be constructed with the ancient building on the property.
In the days before the fire a petition drive led by Kensington pharmacist Louis Stein was being mounted to rally the public for saving the adobe.

Here is the coverage of the fire from the April 21, 1956 Richmond Independent, along with some pictures posted earlier on this blog that were taken the day after the fire by Cynthia Cameron, then a young girl who lived two blocks away.
Note that the article on the fire also mentions the recent demolition of the Alvarado adobe in San Pablo.

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castro adobe bid to save 04 10 195604212015_0000
Richmond Independent story 11 days before the fire.

castro adobe fire 04 21 1956a104212015_0000

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The fountain added to the Castro adobe in the late 1930s by El Cerrito gambling boss Walter “Big Bill” Pechart as seen after the April 20, 1956 fire in this photo by Cynthia Cameron.

The fire, which witnesses said broke out in five locations at the same time, destroyed the wooden second story.

The adobe and surrounding grounds. A police car is to the right.

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Photo from the El Cerrito Historical Society of the adobe in happier times.

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In final hours of Doctors Medical Center, violence victim moved by helicopter

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Dr. Ronald Berman, a longtime medical staff member at Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo, was driving out of the parking lot of the hospital on Monday, the last full day of operation (DMC closed at 7 a.m. on Tuesday), when he saw several people gathered around a person on a stretcher. Presently, ambulances arrived, followed by a REACH medical helicopter.
“This hasn’t happened in ages, as all 911 calls have been diverted from DMC since last August,” Berman said in an email. “I thought it was ironical that this disaster (don’t know the nature of it) occurred on the very evening before closure, and wound up literally on DMC’s doorstep. I happened to have my camera with me, so took some pics.”

(Photos courtesy Dr. Ronald Berman)

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