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Vandals Topple Utility's Power Lines : Sabotage: Blackouts hit Santa Cruz County. Group claims action was in retaliation for P G & E's 'farcical' support of environment.

April 24, 1990|MICHAEL PARRISH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A group calling itself Earth Night Action Group celebrated Earth Day by downing power lines in southern Santa Cruz County, blacking out electricity three times in two days and affecting as many as 95,000 customers of Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

In the first incident, a wooden utility pole was toppled at 10:45 a.m. Sunday in Watsonville, cutting power to 92,000 customers, according to P G & E spokesman Tony Ledwell.

That afternoon, utility crews found a second wooden transmission pole cut in the same vicinity, though that did not result in a power outage because it failed to fall. Both poles were "clean cuts," Ledwell said.

"They were definitely sawed," said Jan Stewart, another P G & E spokesperson.

The third and most damaging incident occurred at 1:38 a.m. Monday, again near Watsonville. A 100-foot steel transmission tower bringing current from the utility's Moss Landing Power Plant was felled after the bolts connecting it to its concrete base were apparently chiseled off. Again, the electricity to the same roughly 92,000 customers went out until power was restored at 5:25 a.m. Monday.

Finally, at 8:55 a.m. Monday, a 115,000-volt transmission line near Morgan Hill was brought down, apparently by gunshot, blacking out about 95,000 P G & E customers. As of Monday afternoon, the power company was attributing the first three incidents to vandals, but not the fourth.

Many residents in the area were jittery, since the disruptions reminded them of last October's destructive earthquake that was followed by a wearying series of aftershocks.

The utility announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone responsible.

Parts of the city of Santa Cruz, plus Watsonville, Aptos, Morgan Hill, Soquel, Hollister, Scotts Valley and parts of Lorenzo Valley were affected, although by Monday afternoon only 50,000 customers were still without electricity. P G & E expected to have all power restored by midnight.

Watsonville Police Chief Terry Medina told reporters that he planned to double patrols Monday night, since street lights, traffic lights and burglar alarms were out. The only reported injury, as of Monday afternoon, appeared to be to a baby parrot, which died in its electrically heated incubator.

The Associated Press reported that a young male voice telephoned its San Francisco bureau Monday to ask whether it had received a letter from the group. Other letters were left with a San Francisco newspaper and the Bay City News Service.

"P G & E corporate absolvement through support of Earth Day is a farce," read the handwritten, block-letter communication received by the news service. "If P G & E's commitment to the earth were real, Diablo Canyon would be shutdown."

The utility's Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant has been the object of protests by environmentalists for years.

The Earth Night Action Group also complained in the letter to the Bay City News Service that "recent by-outs (sic) of solar energy companies exposes P G & E's attempt to shelter the public from environmentally-safe sources of energy. E N A G apoligizes (sic) for inconvenience, but asks public to consider the destruction the earth endures to provide electricity."

The group called on the utility to "cut the cord" from the Moss Landing Power Plant, and termed it a "corporate Earth rapist."

Joann Sutro, an editor with Bay City News Service, said her agency had been in contact with Arizona-based representatives of Earth First!, who "suggested there were incidents elsewhere."

Earth First! is an environmentalist group whose leaders are currently facing charges in similar acts of sabotage.

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