First published in the Sept. 2 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
Despite Southern California Edison’s efforts to remedy a recent surge in unplanned power outages that has affected more than 1,000 local residents, the La Cañada Flintridge City Council has decided to file a complaint with the state and is requesting a formal review of the electricity provider’s practices regarding the maintenance of its infrastructure.
During a virtual special meeting on Monday, the panel was unanimous in approving the city staff’s recommendation to formally complain to the California Public Utilities Commission — which regulates and oversees utility companies — and expressed its disappointment over the way Edison has handled the 16 unplanned power outages reported in LCF since June 21. Nine of the outages occurred on the Haskell circuit, one of the longest lines in the city.
Residents connected to the Haskell circuit have sometimes been without power for several hours due to Edison’s policy of inspecting the entire line before reenergizing after an outage, a new policy put in place by the company to mitigate wildfires.
“It’s our responsibility to be the voice of our residents, and everybody on this panel knows that we’ve been getting email after email and we’ve been guaranteeing our citizens that we are doing everything possible to remedy this situation,” said Mayor Terry Walker. “And I really think we have to do everything possible, and everything possible includes the complaint to the CPUC.”
Marissa Castro-Salvati, a government relations manager for Southern California Edison, joined the virtual meeting and asked that the council reconsider filing a complaint and “allow us to continue with the work.” She said that 10-12 crews — each consisting of four to five employees — have been working since last week to repair and replace aging equipment.
“Edison remains committed to engaging in regular communication with the city and fully appreciates the concerns that have been raised to us,” Castro-Salvati said. “We are putting everything on the table to address the outages, including areas that we don’t suspect are a problem, but we don’t want to leave any stone unturned.”
Edison representatives previously told city officials that more than 700 of 1,503 residents connected to the Haskell circuit had been temporarily moved to an adjacent circuit to lower the number of residents affected by possible future outages. On Monday, they presented images showing equipment such as termination points and wires that were blown out, but not to the extent where they would not work. Edison is on target to complete its work by Friday, Sept. 3, hoping it will be enough to resolve the frequent power failures.
“I’m really encouraged by what we’re finding here and the work we’re able to perform,” Ken Bodenhoefer, an Edison district manager who oversees LCF, told the council. “[We’re] pretty confident it will get us a long way in terms of where we need to be.”
Bodenhoefer added that the company is working with its engineering team on a plan to “replace all aerial cable on this particular circuit” if the repairs don’t resolve the issue.
“Eyes wide open: It’s going to be an extremely invasive process for all the residents,” he said of that possible remedy. “It will likely mean replacing some of the poles in the deep backyards, significant trimming of trees in order to get us back there so where we can do the work to string the new conductor. It will be a very large project, and it will not be without significant pain.”
Mayor Pro Tem Keith Eich initially didn’t see urgency in filing a complaint just yet and felt that Edison was “doing a lot of things now that they weren’t doing a week ago,” and Councilman Jonathan Curtis suggested hiring an “expert,” as the city has done in the past, to evaluate the situation and provide guidance.
The rest of the council respectfully disagreed with its colleagues and was resolute in moving forward with the formal complaint.
“I do think it’s the time to file,” said Councilman Rick Gunter. “The two main things are it’s clear that this has been a re-occurring problem for a long time and if you read the complaint, really all we’re asking the CPUC to do is to help us evaluate [Edison’s] efforts on excessive and re-occurring unplanned outages and asking the CPUC to help us evaluate the maintenance and capital program. And frankly, they’re much better able to do that than we are. The point of a public utilities commission is for agencies such as us to advise them periodically on how it’s going. It’s not a bad thing to say, ‘Hey, this is going wrong. We could use your help looking and see how you can help us do better.’”
Eich worried that a possible downside to filing the complaint would be that Edison might slow its current efforts to address the outages in LCF. Edison officials said they are in contact with CPUC representatives and will continue to find a solution.
“We know the recent outages in La Cañada Flintridge have created a hardship for the community, and are in regular communication with city officials, the CPUC and other elected officials to keep them updated on our ongoing efforts to identify and address the issue,” Reggie Kumar, a spokesman for Edison, told the Outlook Valley Sun on Tuesday. “We are taking this issue very seriously; crews continue to investigate the issue and work to improve the performance of the system in that area. At Southern California Edison, the safety of our communities, customers and employees is our top priority.”
Two community members spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting, urging the council to file the complaint and expressing their frustration over what they said was a lack of communication from Edison.
Earlier this week, Castro-Salvati admitted that there was a “mix-up” in notices of planned outages to residents that confused them about the events’ actual dates, a situation that made residents and the council only more frustrated.
“I hope you take the message back to the communications department that their communications with our residents are really lacking and are really confusing,” Walker said. “I believe that the majority of our residents, if they were better informed and understood the process and knew what was going on, would be a lot more patient. Even with the frustration of having the electricity out, at least they would feel that they understood the situation. So I hope you take that message back. We’ve voiced it many times.”