Logo horizontal ruler

Edison Officials Shed Little Light on Downtown Power Shortage

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

August 9 -- Aside from improved dialogue and a long-term fix to already damaged power vaults, rate hikes and planned outages are all Edison officials can promise Downtown businesses nearly two weeks after an underground explosion left many merchants around the Third Street Promenade in the dark for days.

Rebuilding the area’s entire electrical system or providing a look at Edison’s long-term plan for Downtown’s power system, the oldest in the City, are not likely, Edison officials told Bayside and business leaders.

Those were among the commitments sought from the electrical giant Tuesday at a packed meeting of the Bayside District Corporation’s Land and Asset Committee.

“We won’t say we’re going to give special treatment to the Third Street Promenade,” said Mark Olson, Region Manager for Southern California Edison. “If engineering studies say that Santa Monica get more money (for upgrades), then it will.”

Scheduled inspections, trouble-shooting and ongoing studies on a regional basis are how Edison is tackling a $9 billion upgrade of decaying power systems statewide, Olson said. That way, the company hopes to avoid the perception of favoring certain cities or areas.

“Santa Monica was only one of many communities affected by this once in fifty years heat storm,” said Olson, referring to the record-breaking temperatures that helped trigger the July 22 explosions that sent man-hole covers flying Downtown and melted power cables and two of six inner-city circuits.

Since the explosion, Edison crews have worked overtime to replace damaged equipment, hampering traffic and continuing to disrupt some business operations. The company has called the work an “infrastructure overhaul and not a Band-Aid” approach.

While some circuits Downtown are “obsolete,” others have not had as extensive demands placed on them and may work fine, said Olson and an Edison engineer at Tuesday’s meeting.

Bayside officials, however, said Edison should give added consideration to developing a plan for Downtown’s entire power system, because of the systems’ age and heavy use. The demand for power Downtown -- the highest in the City -- will continue to grow as new buildings rise in the area.

“The number of people per square foot is larger Downtown than anywhere in the City… and we have the oldest infrastructure,” said John Warfel, vice chair of the Bayside District Board.

Warfel also argued that offices, retail stores, entertainment venues and scores of residential units are fast coming online. “Those are two good reasons we need a plan.”

Another reason is flying manhole covers.

Some Bayside officials said the heavy metallic lids have been thrust into the air during at least two other underground explosions Downtown.

“The public safety issue in Downtown alone should give it some priority,” said Bayside Board Chair Bill Tucker.

Complicating any long-term plan is the kind of redevelopment taking place in Santa Monica, Olson said.

“We don’t design (the power needs) for one-story buildings that turn into five story buildings,” Olson said.

City officials said Edison has yet to share a detailed six-month power plan at a time when Santa Monica is undertaking several high profile capital public works projects, including proposed development of the Civic Center.

“We’re still waiting to receive (Edison’s) capital improvement plan for the next 6 months,” said Craig Perkins, director of the City’s Environmental and Public Works Management. “I would argue this is not the practical way to do things.

“How much of that $9 billion will be spent in Santa Monica?” he asked.

Edison officials, countered that the City is not entirely without blame for the crisis, noting that Santa Monica’s notorious planning process has often hindered upgrades and repairs.

“Sometimes I have to beg civil engineers to come out to Santa Monica,” said Bola Ayorinde, an engineer and district manager for Edison.

Since the July 22 explosions – which likely cost retailers and restaurants at least tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue – the City has cleared the way for work permits for Edison, Olson said.

In all 18 switches, 14 underground transformers and 18 poles have been replaced Downtown, Edison officials said.

But all sides say that better communication is needed.

“If we can get past some of the red-tape, we can get the work done,” Olson said.

Business owners in particular called for more cooperation.

“There shouldn’t be this antagonistic relationship between the City and Edison to bring light to a City growing by leaps and bounds and do it without having to avoid flying manhole covers,” said board member Barbara Bryan, whose internet café continues to struggle with the financial hit taken during the outage.

Meanwhile, the bad news keeps coming for Downtown businesses, said Edison officials.

Planned outages -- some as long as 18 hours --- may continue to interfere with businesses during repairs Downtown, and rate all users will pay for electricity is expected to climb, power officials said.

“Some of your businesses are going to be shocked by the rate increases that are going to come out,” Olson said.

The best thing businesses can do now is try and conserve energy, he said.

Lookout Logo footer image
Copyright 1999-2008 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.
Footer Email icon