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City Council poses: Did Edison upgrades in La Cañada make the grade?

electric work in la canada
SCE Governmental Relations Manager Marissa Castro-Salvati told council members Tuesday reliability across many of the city’s 19 circuits increased dramatically between 2018 and last year.
(File Photo)

Although Southern California Edison focused much of its attention and resources last year on implementing a regional wildfire mitigation plan, the utility still made strides improving La Cañada Flintridge’s electrical grid, reducing outages by about 75%, officials reported.

Representatives from the utility presented a progress report this week on upgrades and activities conducted since 2017, when a city-hired consultant examined the performance of SCE’s infrastructure and made a series of recommendations for improvements.

At the time, Los Angeles-based consultant PMCM reported La Cañada residents experienced 2,371 power outages between 2006 and 2016 — a failure rate higher than Southern California Edison’s systemwide average.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the City Council, SCE Governmental Relations Manager Marissa Castro-Salvati said reliability across many of the city’s 19 circuits increased dramatically between 2018 and last year.

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For example, while La Cañada customers experienced a combined 10,917,256 minutes of service interruption in 2018 — including planned and unplanned outages — that figure dropped to 2,720,460 minutes last year.

Castro-Salvati said Edison also completed a full inspection of overhead facilities citywide and made mitigation plans for structures requiring attention, including replacing poles, transformers and cross arms and fixing broken insulators and damaged servers.

“There are 868 work orders that we have identified that pertain to facilities here in La Cañada, and 736 of that 868 have already been completed,” Castro-Salvati said, indicating work could be done by March.

Gerry Avilia, who oversees Edison’s vegetation management program, said with all but one of the 354 work orders for priority tree trimming completed, La Cañada residents could now return to a much calmer trimming schedule.

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“We had an influx of over 90 crews added to the city during that period, up from our usual 20,” Avila said. “All those crews are gone now so we’re down to our routine crews.”

Debbie Tran, a consulting engineer from PMCM, revisited the 10 individual recommendations her firm made in 2017, sharing updates on how each has been addressed in the intervening two years.

Some, like the elimination of the Sharon Substation, have been completed, while others — like a program to replace worn and damaged cable-in-conduit lines — will be addressed on an “as needed” basis.

Despite Edison’s improvements, some residents expressed frustration at continuing power outages. Gamer Vartanian, whose home is on the Haskell circuit, called the ongoing failures “unacceptable.”

Resident Dana Coyle, who lives on San Juan Way, agreed. Her home had an unplanned outage Monday.

“What is an average town in the USA, how many minutes outage do they have? Is 2.7 million minutes of outage still very high? We don’t have anything to gauge it,” Coyle said. “We can’t have power that’s going on and off.”

Council members thanked the Edison representatives for their time and for the continued work on the city’s infrastructure. Councilwoman Terry Walker wondered aloud if the city might receive ongoing updates on outages they could communicate to residents with questions.

Councilman Mike Davitt said the panel might also help spread word about future work events or programs the public should know about.

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“Utilize the city,” he said. “We want to help in any way we can.”

Reluctant Council adopts state-compliant ADU laws

The City Council adopted Tuesday a new ordinance that complies with a slate of state measures regulating the construction and operation of accessory dwelling units (ADUs).

The new laws allow homeowners to build a standalone accessory dwelling unit, even on properties where the maximum floor-area ratio has been reached, in addition to one junior ADU fully contained within the primary residence on the property.

Side and rear setbacks will be reduced to 4 feet, and approvals for ADU applications will be largely ministerial and will not require review by the city.

Council members voted to approve some additional regulations for hillside properties, not overtly prohibited by state law, and raised concern about the units being built on houses without sewer connections.

Planner Emily Stadnicki said the county’s Department of Public Health would have to sign off on whether a property’s septic system would handle the additional load. Mayor Pro Tem Greg Brown expressed concern about a potential increased burden on the city’s sewer system.

“North of Foothill Boulevard we’ve got 4,500 homes,” he said. “Theoretically you could have another 9,000 units— at what point do we reach our capacity?”

Community Development Block Grants redistributed

Also Tuesday, the council considered shifting funds in the city’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, designed to help fund housing and access projects for residents of low and moderate income.

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City staffer Lisa Brancheau said the city will receive $59,192 from the county’s Community Development Commission for Fiscal Year 2020-21.

She advised $41,138 be committed to a housing repair program, while another $10,062 be used for ADA-accessible sidewalk ramps and $7,990 for a sewer connection assistance program whose popularity has been steadily declining.

Brancheau said the city still has $23,538 remaining from last year’s grant award, because no sewer connection applications had been submitted, and advised spending $15,000 on emergency backpacks for seniors.

Instead, after some discussion, the city officials thought the money could be used to help make ADA improvements at the city-owned Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge, where several modifications are needed.

Council members approved use of the 2020-21 funds, which must be submitted to the state by Feb. 1, deciding to further consider the remainder of 2019-20 funds, which must be spent by June 30.

Council holds off on adopting L.A. County Building Code

Council members broke with a decades-long tradition Tuesday, deciding not to adopt county building, plumbing, mechanical, electrical and residential code regulations by reference, instead opting to have residents follow minimum guidelines of the California Green Building Standards Code.

Community Development Director Susan Koleda explained the County Building Code adopted in November contains several stringent requirements homeowners must follow, including mandating the installation of roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels on newly constructed homes.

The county code also includes standards on roof color, providing electric vehicle charging stations and use of recycled materials. Feeling the requirements too strict, council members adopted to rely on the state code.

“The only thing we’d need to make sure is that our building inspectors, who are county trained, understand which county provisions we’re not enacting at the moment,” said City Manager Mark Alexander, suggesting a city subcommittee work to communicate the changes.

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