San Rafael mystery utility box irks local businessman

Updated: Jun 2, 2018

POSTED: 09/08/17, 4:10 PM PDT | UPDATED: ON 09/10/2017

Author: Keri Brenner, Marin Independent Journal

Publication: Marin Independent Journal

Nick Gaffney worked for months to get someone to fix the utility box under the freeway on Fourth Street in San Rafael. Caltrans has since repaired the equipment. (Robert Tong/Marin Independent Journal)


Until last week, the peace of Nick Gaffney’s lunchtime walks along Fourth Street by the park-and-ride lot under the Highway 101 overpass in downtown San Rafael were disturbed by an unsightly — and he says potentially dangerous — inanimate object.

The focus of his irritation was a utility switchbox of unknown origin that had been knocked over, exposing the inside wiring. Scores of people walk by and drive past it every day — someone could trip on it or drive into it accidentally, he said.

“It’s a beautiful county that we live in,” he said at the time. “Even if it is a Caltrans problem, can’t the city step in and take care of it if Caltrans is not doing it?”

Bob Haus, a Caltrans spokesman, said a crew fixed the box last week after multiple inquiries by the Independent Journal. That was after Gaffney’s persistence triggered weeks of mystery and confusion about who owned the box, whose responsibility it was — and who could step in to fix it.

“I thought it might be nice to clean up the neighborhood before SMART gets here,” said Gaffney, 58, of Fairfax, a downtown San Rafael public relations consultant. “I thought maybe there would be some sense of urgency with SMART.”

Gaffney said he had complained to various local officials since June, with no response. He even sent an email to Caltrans, but never heard back, he said. San Rafael Public Works Director Bill Guerin said last month that he had been aware of the upended box even before Gaffney contacted him a month or so back. Guerin said he alerted Caltrans’ North Bay office on May 4, and then again in June after Gaffney made a complaint.

“They (Caltrans) have not been as responsive as they could be,” Guerin said at the time. “We do want it cleaned up.”

For Gaffney, meanwhile, who also picks up trash when he hikes on Mount Tamalpais and who gets offended by random plastic bags or pieces of drywall that show up on freeway shoulders, it’s the principle of civic pride.

“I’m holding the government accountable to do the basic stuff that we pay taxes for,” he said. “This is about having respect for ourselves and for our kids.”

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