Storm spotlights city's power problems

In the wake of the powerful windstorm that downed trees and power lines, the streets of La Cañada Flintridge are telling a tale of recovery and reconstruction.

Though power had been restored in most of the city, a number of homes remained connected to seven temporary generators parked on Woodleigh Lane, Foxwood Road and Alta Vista Drive last weekend. City officials were on site at the most heavily damaged areas, working directly with representatives from Southern California Edison, which had more than 1,000 employees working to make repairs and restore power to homes and businesses.

The California Public Utilities Commission officials said they have begun an investigation into the cause of the prolonged power outage and the length of time it took Edison to communicate its emergency response and return safety-related calls from customers and elected officials.

The investigation will include interviews with Edison employees, a review of inspection reports, and surveys of areas where lines came down. If it finds that Edison violated any safety regulations in its response to the outage, the utility provider could be expected to pay fines and penalties, CPUC Executive Director Paul Clanon said in a statement last week.

“SCE has a duty to provide safe and reliable service to its customers and we have a duty to make sure SCE is doing all it can to fulfill that mandate,” Clanon added.

Edison spokesman Ronald Garcia said his company will be taking a hard look at its internal processes.

“We’re now wrapping it up, [figuring out] lessons learned and talking to people about what their expectations were so we can ensure continued improvement,” he said, adding that the Nov. 30 - Dec. 1 storm was the worst he’s seen in 44 years with the company. “In the next few days, we’re going to assemble in groups and talk about what we experienced and what we can do better.”

A number of residents questioned whether the city’s current energy infrastructure is sufficient to support the increased number — and size — of homes built in recent decades.

JPL electrical engineer Ali Ghaneh said he hopes city officials will work with Edison to create better means of pinpointing problems and their causes so customers won’t be the first line of reporting in a disaster.

“We had to keep calling Edison to notify them of problems,” Ghaneh said in an email. “At times, the power was only restored for a few seconds, and if it was not for our callbacks, Edison would not have known the power was disconnected again.”

Stephen Chuck, an attorney who lives on Alta Vista Drive, said he heard from an Edison supervisor working in his neighborhood that the power lines were too small to power homes in the area. In addition, downed utility poles there were so inaccessible, and so shrouded by trees, that crews had to wait on replacement poles to be delivered by helicopter before they could begin repairs.

“Our section is difficult — you’ve got lines running up the canyon at the bottom of the hill,” said Chuck, whose home went nearly a full week without power. “They have to helicopter in poles, and I saw on the news they don’t have any poles left.”

Garcia confirmed that workers would be delivering poles by helicopter and said Edison had already been in the process of upgrading the city’s power grid when the windstorm hit. Now, crews must address the damage done to downed poles, lines and transformers even as they continue those upgrades.

A previously scheduled series of planned service interruptions were scheduled to take effect in portions of the city from Monday through Thursday, Garcia said.

Mayor Dave Spence said he spoke to Edison President Theodore Craver for about 40 minutes, part of Craver’s promise to call the mayor of every city affected by the winds. They discussed ways to improve the utility’s emergency response times and communication strategies, as well as the importance of improving the infrastructure that supports homes in Flintridge.

“There is an area in Flintridge that is underpowered. There have been complaints by residents for the last couple of years when we had outages not even in reference to a storm,” Spence said. “I told (Craver) we’d been on the list for several years to get better infrastructure there, and he seemed pretty receptive.”

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