Piece of Mind: We're ready to stop feeling powerless

It was the squirrel that broke the restaurateur’s back.

And that of his next-door neighbor.

There may soon be a citizens revolt.

Taylor’s Steak House proprietor Bruce Taylor reports that he lost business Jan. 25 when electrical power went out in La Cañada just as customers were settling in for lunch. Because we were struck by an outage at the same time here, I can attest that there was no warning, no blinking of lights. Just that unnerving silence that comes when darkness comes suddenly and TVs, radios and computers shut down.

Ninety customers, Taylor said, figuring lunch would not be served, walked out of his restaurant and presumably took their appetites elsewhere.

An Edison spokesman told us that more than 1,200 customers were affected, from La Crescenta east to Commonwealth Avenue in La Cañada. I think he was at least slightly mistaken: Our office is east of Commonwealth.

Much later in the day Edison told us the cause of that particular outage: It was a deadly misadventure of one of our bushy-tailed rodents.

We heard varying reports from residents and businesses about the duration of that incident, from minutes to hours. At our office, we were down less than 20 minutes. But the length of that outage is not the issue at this point. The fact that it was just one in a series of repeated outages that hit the foothills is what’s getting underneath everyone’s skin.

“The unbelievable number of power outages in La Cañada is an outrage to all citizens and businesses — we have had enough!!” Taylor wrote me in an email.

He was also speaking on behalf of his residential neighborhood, the leafy area near Descanso Gardens. But we had already heard about his neighbors’ collective anger from Diane Isaacs, who had been pushed over the brink by the latest episode.

Isaacs called me. She and her neighbor, Taylor, were so incensed over the repeated outages that they sent blistering letters to city officials demanding that they do something about it. Isaacs, who sees this as a safety issue, said we should all keep pressure on our local government to force Southern California Edison to improve the infrastructure here. She sent us a letter to the editor this week and, when last I heard, she was planning to call television reporters to get the word out that La Cañada Flintridge is like a Third World country — in terms of power service, anyway.

In his letter to city officials that Taylor shared with us this week, he minces no words. It’s clear he holds the city responsible for the utility’s failings and calls the attitude in City Hall “cavalier.”

The recently vocal outrage may have been fueled by the Nov. 30-Dec. 1 winds that left people without power for days, but they continue to be fanned by Edison’s apparent inability to fix a problem that has plagued this community for years. You may remember the letter to the editor resident Michael Gross wrote when his Flintridge-area house was without power two days before Christmas. He, like others, points to Pasadena and Los Angeles water and power departments that manage to keep the lights on better than Edison does here. Why can’t we have as reliable a service?

In the week since that daytime outage that lost Taylor’s all those customers, we’ve heard of more issues with power lines. Winds knocked down a tree Friday night, which fell into power lines. A woman called just this morning to say her house in the Paradise Canyon area was without power during the wee hours on Tuesday. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were other outages we haven’t heard about. I invite you to email us your stories.

Can the city do more than press our case with Edison and with its regulatory body, the California Public Utilities Commission? One might think that with La Cañada resident Michael Peevey (state Sen. Carol Liu’s husband) serving as president of the commission, we’d have more pull. So far, though, I’d have to say we haven’t seen much in the way of help coming from that agency. Where does that leave us? Feeling powerless — and ready to hold our elected officials’ hands to the fire.

CAROL CORMACI is managing editor of the Valley Sun. Email her at ccormaci@valleysun.net or carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

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