In the first agreement of its kind in the state, city-owned utilities in three medium-sized Southern California municipalities have joined forces with three similar utilities in the San Francisco Bay Area to exchange help after an earthquake or in other emergencies.
Under the novel agreement, Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena have formed a partnership with the cities of Alameda, Santa Clara and Palo Alto.
"We're gambling that if either Southern California or Northern California have an earthquake, both regions won't have them at the same time," said Larry Starr, assistant general manager for the city of Alameda Bureau of Electricity.
Alameda first proposed the idea of a statewide mutual aid program in early 1990--several months after the Loma Prieta Earthquake ruptured power lines throughout the Bay Area in October, 1989.
Negotiations with all 62 members of the California Municipal Utilities Assn. proved to be too unwieldy, Starr said, but in the process, the six cities discovered they had much in common and decided to work together.
The six-city agreement is being closely monitored by utility executives around California and may someday be expanded to include other cities, Starr said.
The participating cities are alike.
All range in population from about 80,000 to 120,000.
Each city-owned utility serves 35,000 to 50,000 households and is normally self-sufficient in electrical power.
City councils in Burbank and Glendale ratified the agreement this week, joining Alameda and Santa Clara, which approved it earlier.
Pasadena and Palo Alto are scheduled to consider it next month.
More important, the six cities have very little in common with larger utilities in such cities as Los Angeles, where the huge Department of Water and Power serves 1.3 million households, or with the private utilities, such as Northern California's Pacific Gas & Electric.
The agreement does not cover the transmission of power, because each utility already has arrangements to buy electricity from other utilities in case of emergencies.
Instead, the new agreement assures that extra work crews and equipment from the unaffected cities can be moved in rapidly after major emergencies to replace damaged transformers, lines and power poles.
"We all use a lot of the same equipment; things like cables and power poles are quite similar. Our procedures are very similar too," said Ronald V. Stassi, general manager of the Burbank Public Service Department. "In case of an earthquake, we can send work crews, transformers, trucks and material to help them get back on board as soon as possible."
Under the agreement, cities requesting assistance would pay for all costs of personnel, transportation and material sent by responding cities.
The agreement exempts the responding cities and their personnel from any legal liability incurred.
"We would take care of them--pay their salaries, their hotel bills and compensate them for whatever equipment they use," Stassi said. "Ideally, we would keep good records and then we would be compensated by a federal agency," such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Burbank already had a similar mutual aid agreement with neighboring Pasadena and Glendale.
But Burbank officials felt that local aid agreements might be useless in a large quake, which would probably hit all three simultaneously.
"If the 'big one' decides to hit in the Los Angeles area, it's virtually assured that all Southern California cities will be in the same boat," said Greg Simay, power resources manager for Burbank.
"The key thing is that the arrangements have been worked out in advance so you don't use precious time trying to get things together on a makeshift basis," Simay added. "These Bay Area agencies would be in a great position to help us and vice versa."