Overloaded utility poles cause outrage

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Fire officials believe top-heavy utility poles that snapped during high winds caused the 2007 Malibu Canyon fire.

By Olivia Damavandi / Staff Writer

The city council at its Monday night meeting briefly discussed the outrage over why Southern California Edison is allowing various wireless communications companies to pile heavy cables and antennas onto wooden, electric-wire poles, and directed City Attorney Christi Hogin to investigate actions the city can take to protect it against potential hazards.

The October 2007 Malibu Canyon fire, according to recent reports by Los Angeles County Fire Department and field investigations by California Public Utilities Commission staff, was started when three of the top-heavy electric-wire poles snapped due to exceeded weight restrictions.

The council also voted Monday night to allocate as much as $22,500 toward the implementation of improvements to help alleviate the ongoing traffic and parking problems on Morning View Drive at Malibu High School and agreed to enter into a financial assistance agreement with the State Water Resources Control Board to fund the Paradise Cove Stormwater Treatment Project.

The Malibu Canyon fire in four hours burned 3,836 acres, 10 houses, Castle Kashan, and several businesses and classrooms at two schools. Central Malibu was evacuated for three days and three firefighters were injured.

“It seems to me we have a real serious problem on PCH and in the canyons,” Mayor Andy Stern said. “Edison has taken the position they no longer have responsibility of weight load on the polls. I think that’s horrifying.

“I think we’re facing a really bad situation,” Stern continued. “It is a horrifying thought to think that poles put up years ago are being loaded up with more and more wires and nobody’s taking responsibility. It seems to me these are ticking time bombs ready to explode and nobody’s doing anything about it.”

Edison, in a release dated April 27, said it is conducting a formal investigation into the matter of overloaded utility poles.

Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich said she discussed the matter with Los Angeles County board Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who said it would cost approximately $1 million to underground the city’s telephone lines.

Conley Ulich then recommended starting a petition regarding the matter in Malibu that would include signatures from other coastal cities, and delivering it to both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edison.

Traffic problems to be solved

Morning View Drive residents and Malibu High School students and parents have for months complained about gridlocked and unsafe traffic during drop-off and pick-up hours at Malibu High and Juan Cabrillo Elementary Schools.

They say the traffic on Morning View Drive, Ebbtide Way, Pacific Coast Highway, and portions of Merritt and Bush Drives is caused in part by illegally parked cars and is creating an unsafe environment for students, parents, educators, residents, law enforcement, Fire Department, emergency vehicles and others who require access to parts of the area.

Following a presentation by city staff of the traffic improvement measures, the council voted to restrict parking on Morning View Drive during peak drop-off and pick-up hours, between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. and between 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. They also voted to create 13 additional student parking spaces in Malibu High School’s bus garage area and provide two crossing guards and additional law enforcement on Morning View Drive during the aforementioned drop-off and pick-up hours (and between 12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. on shortened school days on Fridays).

The total cost to implement these recommended improvements for the remaining part of this school year is approximately $22,500, which includes $5,500 for crossing guards and $10,000 for additional Sheriff’s enforcement.

For a full school year, the annual cost to implement the improvements is estimated at $64,000. The additional costs would be reviewed by the council with the approval of the 2009-2010 fiscal budget, which the council discussed at its quarterly meeting Wednesday.

The council also considered the use of Clover Heights Avenue as an off-campus location for additional student parking and directed staff to return with suggestions at an undetermined date.

In addition to implementing the traffic solutions, city council also decided to enter into a financial assistance agreement with the state water board to help fund the construction of a stormwater treatment facility at Paradise Cove.

Though the project has been delayed since 2006 due to unpaid $920,000 in grant money by the state to the city, Thorsen said, “We should have something moving in about 60 days in regard to this project to help clean up the [Ramirez] creek at Paradise Cove,” thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus initiative, passed by U.S. Congress earlier this year.