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City Admits Fault in Stadium Blackouts

Old and malfunctioning equipment kept Candlestick in the dark

San Francisco admitted Thursday that the city was at fault for the second of two power outages during Monday night's 49ers game at Candlestick Park. In a letter to Jed York, the team's president, Mayor Ed Lee said the city was also responsible for the delay in switching on the lights inside the stadium after the first outage.

Lee's letter sought to address concerns the Niners had raised about the power supply at the 51-year-old stadium. On Tuesday, the team, which is planning to move to Santa Clara, said it had received no assurances from the city or PG&E that the stadium's power supply was secure for their first playoff game next month.

Team spokesman Steve Weakland said in an email that the letter "adds to our belief that this was an unimaginable sequence of events."

In a separate letter Thursday, PG&E's CEO, Tony Earley, assured the Niners that the company "understands the serious nature" of the outages and personally reaffirmed PG&E's "commitment to ensuring that an outage of this nature doesn't happen again."

Earlier in the week, Lee had called the outages, which occurred during ESPN's broadcast, "a national embarrassment." Immediately following the game, Lee ordered the heads of the fire department, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Recreation and Park Department, which operates and maintains the stadium, to investigate the outages.

PG&E said that the first outage occurred when a power line that supplies the stadium failed. At 5:18 p.m. Monday night, the overhead line snapped when a piece of equipment known as a splice came apart, causing a big blue flash that was captured by ESPN's cameras.

Within five seconds, the stadium switched to a backup PG&E line built in case of such an outage, according to San Francisco Public Utilities Commission power official Barbara Hale.

But within those five seconds, the old-fashioned, metal halide lamps that illuminate the field had powered down, and the time it took to switch the lights back on delayed the start of the game by 20 minutes, according to Hale.

During the brief outage, an emergency backup power supply switched on automatically, but it malfunctioned and failed to switch itself back off.

According to Hale, the backup system accidentally triggered a shutdown of the main power system with 12 minutes and 13 seconds left in the second quarter. The malfunction caused the lights to dim again and led to another delay in the game, which lasted 15 minutes.

On Wednesday, PG&E said the line came apart at a site where it had previously been repaired, but the utility could not say when that repair occurred.

A PG&E spokeswoman said Thursday that the power failure had prompted the company to replace several other splices near the stadium. In his letter, Lee said the city will complete improvements to the stadium's power supply in the next week. 

Hale acknowledged that the metal halides would likely dim again if the stadium were to experience a similar power outage in the future, and that they would take a long time to fire back up again. The 49ers are scheduled next month to play their first playoff game at Candlestick Park since 2003.

“If PG&E doesn’t have a power failure, this won’t be a problem again,” Hale said. “Clearly, PG&E is really paying attention to this outage and working on restoring the service — and not just restoring the service, but improving it.”

Weakland, the 49ers spokesman, said the team would forward Lee's letter to the NFL immediately.

"With PG&E, the City of San Francisco, Public Utilities Commission and Parks and Recreation personnel working together, it appears the problem was identified and solved," he said.

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