Southern California

Power Pole Replacement Frustrates Malibu Resident

It may take a village to replace a temporary power pole residents and local authorities say is a a danger.

How many companies does it take to transfer the lines from an old utility pole to a new one?

It sounds like the setup for a joke. But Malibu resident Gracee Arthur is not laughing.

Since moving to a unit in a West Malibu fourplex four years ago, Arthur has been beset with recurring electrical outages that repeatedly brought repair crews to the power pole nearest her home, she said.

Arthur was initially delighted last month to see an entirely new pole replace the old one. Edison moved its power lines to the new pole. But leaning off-kilter next to it was a shorter pole carrying all the telecom cables - phone, cable, Internet - that shared the old utility pole.

Those lines would have to be relocated by their respective companies, and that would be done within two days, Arthur recalled being told.

Three weeks later, it still has not happend.

"We consider that a dangerous situation," said Lou La Monte, member of the Malibu City Council.

Potentially overloaded or weakened utility poles are taken seriously in this coastal city, particulary after the 2007 Malibu Canyon Fire that destroyed 14 structures and burned nearly four thousand acres. Investigators concluded it had been ignited by downed power lines from three poles that snapped in strong Santa Ana wind.

"The fire showed us the poles were not safe," La Monte said.

The NextG telecom company later acknowledged that one of the failed poles had been overloaded with its equipment, and Southern California Edison stipulated it had not taken action to prevent the overloading.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) pursued regulatory action. By 2013, Edison, NextG, and three other telecoms had agreed to settlements which included setting aside funds to ensure that poles were maintained to standards.

Edison alone committed $17 million, and the process of surveying poles is underway.

Even before that settlement, Arthur had already gone to Malibu City Hall and to the CPUC to
pressure Edison to replace the power pole nearest her home.

Arthur expressed dismay that the various utilities could not coordinate the transfer of their respective lines and equipment to the new pole.

Unable to get a commitment from the telecoms, she said, she contacted the CPUC and was told the lines would be transferred within two months.

Neither she nor Councilman LaMonte understands why the work cannot be scheduled sooner, especially in light of Malibu's history.

Apart from the 2007 fire, just last April a power pole failed in Trancas Canyon, igniting spot fires that fortunately did not spread. During summer a power pole near Corral Canyon collapsed and interfered with traffic on Pacific Coast Highway for two days.

Monday being the President's Day Holiday, the front offices of the utilities were closed, and officials could not be reached to respond.

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