“When Mendocino’s Wires Went Away” by Katy Tahja

A view of Calpella Street in 1972 when Mendocino still had aerial utility lines. (Gift of Beth Stebbins, Beth Stebbins Collection, Kelley House Photographs)

When were the utility lines put underground in Mendocino? This question was recently asked at the Kelley House. A few long-term residents guessed it was more than 25 years ago. The accurate records are in our vault, of course, so that’s where we went to get the answer.

When the idea originated, utility companies and local government agencies projected the work would take about two years, but this proved to be too optimistic. There was community input. One person expressed concern that “If there are no overhead lines, where will the birds sit?”

According to our records, as part of the county’s General Plan the Board of Supervisors required that all phone, electric and cable television lines be placed underground in the spring of 1986. Every overhead line west of Highway 1 from Jack Peters Creek to Big River was to be buried.

In the spring of 1988 the Mendocino Historical Review Board approved the idea. Trenching and relocating lines began in March 1989 and by January 1990 old phone poles were coming down and new street lights were being installed.

If a homeowner did not already have underground service from the street, PG&E would trench in to the existing meter location. Any new elements needed in that run would be installed free of charge. Other items, like new breaker boxes, etc., were the responsibility of the homeowner.

So the former “unsightly” overhead utility lines disappeared by October 1990. The Mendocino Beacon featured a photo of Main Street with open views to the skies. 

And the birds? They’re still here. It seems trees work pretty well as perches.

Early Mendocino Coast by Katy Tahja – From the Sonoma County line to the Humboldt County line a century ago.. A tribute to the creativity and perseverance of the common working man. Images of America series. $22.