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[whitespace] Blackouts roll through area, but don't cause big trouble

Willow Glen--Willow Glen businesses, homes and schools took their turn in the dark Thursday as rolling blackouts darkened parts of Willow Glen.

Power went out in the northern areas of Willow Glen on Jan. 17, for about 90 minutes beginning at noon, and later in the day was turned off again in the southern areas on Jan. 18, for over an hour beginning at about 10 a.m.

A PG&E spokesman said he was not able to confirm the details.

Police and fire officials said there were no accidents or emergencies in the Willow Glen area, and few elsewhere, related to the outage, although nonfunctioning traffic signals slowed traffic.

"People have been pretty good about treating them as 4-way stops," police spokesman Officer Rubens Dalaison said.

He did add that the outage caused some building alarms to go off, but otherwise, "nothing major."

Fire spokesman Capt. Mike Mooney said the only incident near Willow Glen was a power outage in the Cambrian area that was not caused by the blackouts.

On Jan. 18, a 15-year-old boy climbed a PG&E power tower that houses the 100,000-volt main transmission lines for the San Jose area.

Police negotiators talked the distraught boy, who was not suicidal, into getting into a rescue basket, but PG&E had to turn off power in the tower for about 25 minutes so the boy wouldn't be electrocuted, Mooney said.

Students at St. Christopher's Elementary School on the corner of Booksin and Curtner avenues were playing outside when their classrooms and computer screens went dark last Thursday morning. But Principal Arlene Ernst said teachers relied on sunlight and modified their lesson plans to keep the classes in session.

"The teachers have stayed calm and that makes the kids stay calm," she said. "Instead, they're saying it's an adventure. We can still learn without light."

Ernst's staff was pulling out flashlights and extra batteries and tuning into news radio programs as an ABC television news van pulled up in front of the school, where the dark intersection stoplight slowed traffic.

Willow Glen librarian June Hayashi was all ready with her flashlight out on her desk Jan. 18, but they had already been through one outage the day before, like Lincoln Avenue and most of Willow Glen.

Staff at the Willow Glen Library had been a little concerned about keeping track of students who come by after school, because areas of the building can get dark without electric light. But their outage on Jan. 17, was over before school ended, Hayashi said.

"We just had to turn off our computers for a couple of hours," she said. "But there are a lot of people who come in here to use the computers."

The next day the library staff was trying to do its part by only turning on the lights and computers they really needed. But, the library system's computer server was down.

"Now they come in and check out books," Hayashi laughed. Staff checked people's books out manually and then put the records into the computer when the power came back up, she said.

The timing of Wednesday's outage was a plus over at the Willows Senior Center on Lincoln Avenue near Curtner Avenue. The noon outage came just after their nutrition program staff had finished cooking lunch, the center's director, Jane Hemeon, said.

"We were just serving by then," she said.

Unfortunately, the day's popular Bingo game did have to be canceled, because without a microphone it can be difficult for the seniors in the crowded room to hear the letter-number combinations. But most of the classes were able to go on with the sunlight that came into the rooms, Hermeon said.

She also pointed out that her center stays open in the evenings when it is particularly hot or cold in the homes of its senior citizens, but there could be a problem if even they cannot get power.

"We need to keep them warm here," she said.

She added that the city's parks and recreation officials were looking for ways to provide warmth and electricity to seniors who may need it if the power outages continue.

Fire spokesman Mooney also pointed out that people, especially seniors, who rely on medical machinery, such as dialysis machines should have an alternate source of energy, as local agencies are not capable of providing power to everyone.

The staff over at Lincoln Avenue's Cafe Primavera was more concerned with how to keep their patrons' food orders warm. From server Jose Ibarra's perspective, the blackout came at the exact wrong time, coming in with the rest of the noon rush.

"People are here for a reason, and we couldn't do the job right," he said. "People are expecting us to be open for them when they need us. We did our best to try to serve them."

He said they provided service to their customers who were already seated, but they had to turn 20 to 25 people away and lost about $300 worth of business.

The staff had been all set to leave, and their chefs had even gone home, when the power came back up about 1:30 p.m. So, he said, they just served cold food until they closed at 2:30 p.m.

And Ibarra said he lost out on about $50 of tips, "which is half my tips. It was not fun."
Kate Carter

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