The Latest Barrier to New Bay Area Housing? PG&E Equipment Delays


There are hundreds of otherwise ready-to-go housing units just plain sitting vacant across the Bay Area, because PG&E is backlogged on the electrical components needed to connect these units to their power grid.

You’ve heard plenty of sturm and drang over the last year or so about California cities’ state-mandated housing element plans that require cities to build tens of thousands of units of new housing, or else miss out on millions of dollars in state funding for affordable housing and transit. And while bureaucratic red tape often notoriously delays new housing, developers falling behind on their bank loans have also delayed these projects, and now we’re hearing of a new source of housing development delays. Bay Area News Group reports that PG&E equipment delays are blocking hundreds ready-to-occupy units from being inhabited.  

The image at the top of this post is of 1000 Sutter Street in SF, the former hotel Granada which has been converted to affordable housing. A PG&E sub-surface transformer delay threatened to set back its opening by several months, though the city was able to get PG&E to expedite delivery.

But several other projects around the Bay Area have not been so lucky, and the news group reports that “Around 540 PG&E customers are waiting on transformers in Northern and Central California, and about 40% are in the Bay Area.”  

Their reports highlights one project in Oakland at 1510 Webster Street, which has 236 units that were slated to open in February. But the lack of available electric transformers is pushing that opening back by at least five months. “We’re providing housing that’s desperately needed,” president of that building’s developer oWow Andrew Ball told the News Group. “Here we are about to deliver it, and we have something like this come up. It’s amazing what we have to go through to actually provide housing.”

This all sounds like regular, pandemic-era supply chain issues. But in reality, the transformer supply problems started with Trump-era tariffs against Chinese electronic imports, and the supply problems were then exacerbated when COVID-19 hit. Construction trade groups say transformers that used to take four months to procure can now require up to two years.

It’s not just PG&E, the transformer shortage is nationwide as Reuters reported last month. And it’s also an unintended consequence of two positive goals; the desire to phase natural out gas from new housing developments, and the high-density housing that state lawmakers have been pushing for. That high-density housing requires underground transformers, instead of the boxy, above-ground transformers. So it’s a confluence of factors leading to the delays, but another hurdle that’s hampering many California cities’ ability to meet their housing goals.  

Related: State Issues Scathing New Report on San Francisco’s Arduously Slow Process for Approving New Housing [SFist]

Image: Google Street View



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