Utility blames 1st outage on failed wires

SAN FRANCISCO -- The blackouts that left Candlestick Park in the gloom during a much-anticipated Monday Night Football matchup also dimmed the spotlight that would have otherwise been shining on the San Francisco 49ers after their 20-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rather than focusing on the team's success, talk turned Tuesday to the many failings of the 51-year-old stadium and the 49ers' plan to move outside of the city limits and build a new stadium in nearby Santa Clara.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee called the incident a "national embarrassment."

The outages even gave the hated cross-town rivals an opportunity to be magnanimous. The Oakland Raiders told the 49ers and the NFL they were prepared to make their stadium available to finish the game Monday night -- or whenever they may have deemed appropriate.

The San Francisco Police Department said it never discussed evacuating the sold-out stadium even though the blackouts conjured nationally televised images of World Series fans streaming out of Candlestick immediately after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

"Any decision to end the game would've come from the NFL," said Sgt. Mike Andraychak. He said officers were investigating an unrelated bomb threat when the first blackout occurred at 5:20 p.m. PST, delaying the start of the game. He said three people who ran onto the field during the second blackout were arrested. There were also a handful of public intoxication and battery arrests that are usual for games.

In the end, the NFL let the game play on at Candlestick Monday night. But the questions over the 49ers' future home intensified.

For the immediate future, the NFL and 49ers say they are confident the problem won't recur and that Candlestick can host a playoff game next month.

"We're not concerned," said 49ers spokesman Steve Weakland. "We certainly don't want it to happen again and we will do everything we can to find out how it happened and why it happened."

Lee ordered the fire department and San Francisco Public Utility Commission to investigate. The California Public Utility Commission has also joined the investigation, which includes Pacific Gas & Electric officials.

PG&E said the first outage was caused when a spice in distribution wires outside the stadium failed and the resulting split fell to the ground. The utility said it took several minutes for the back-up power to start, accounting for the delay. The cause of the second outage is still under investigation.

Regardless of the cause, the blackouts highlighted the fact that 49ers have all but called the moving vans to clear out of their home since 1971.

The city of Santa Clara last week secured $850 million in bank loans to construct a new stadium. The team and city still need a commitment of at least $150 million from the NFL to secure the loan. But the 49ers are confident that will come through and their days at Candlestick appear to be numbered.

The San Francisco Giants moved from wind-swept Candlestick before the 2000 season, leaving behind the park's trademark swirling hotdog wrappers and the Croix de Candlestick's pins given to fans who braved the freezing nights to endure extra-inning games.

The 49ers and the city have battled for years over the run-down stadium, including complaints of luxury boxes with leaks, dilapidated parking lots and security.

Earlier this year, two men were shot in a parking lot outside the stadium after an exhibition game between the 49ers and the Oakland Raiders. There were also numerous fights inside the stadium, including one man who was beaten unconscious in a bathroom during that game.

The 49ers are planning to have the new stadium completed by 2015. It would hold 68,000 fans and increase the number of luxury suites from the current 94 at Candlestick to 160 at the new stadium, which would also boast a 13,600-square-foot scoreboard, compared with Candlestick's 1,300-square-foot scoreboard. Parking spaces would increase from 18,000 to 40,000.