Hopefully, all Santa Clarita residents experienced a joyful New Year’s Eve, by celebrating in a responsible manner, thereby eliminating the possibility of becoming an overnight guest in the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Grey Bar Motel. But, as we ended another “Year Around the Sun,” and experienced the exit of 2020 while welcoming the birth of 2021, it did feel a trifle awkward.
I recall, one year ago, when I was overly optimistic about entering the “Roaring 20s” all over again, by starting last year’s New Year’s column saying, “Like the first time around, the stock market is at an all-time high, my 401 (K) balance is going through the roof,” and then I continued by listing some positive comparisons to a time 100 years ago. Yet, even with the stock market at an all-time high again this year, most of us would be happy, to just have our lifestyles reset to the way it was, one year ago.
Historians will record 2020 as the year of a modern worldwide pandemic, with the public having their fingers crossed, the newly approved vaccines will restore our population’s health, allowing us to live a normal life once again. I wonder how long the euphoria will last, of being able to assemble at public gatherings, eat in crowded restaurants, sit in a movie theater, and do it all without having our faces covered.
Unfortunately, also in 2020, fires, along with the pandemic, gave several of our utilities an excuse to provide inadequate services to the public. It has been over 10 years since the state of California’s Department of Water Resources stopped pumping fresh water through the Sacramento Delta, greatly reducing water availability in the central and southern areas of California. Today we are no closer to fixing this problem than we were a decade ago. Realizing the public may bellyache but has no real method to do anything about it, Southern California Edison started rolling blackouts in the summer, rather than taking action to make more power available, and is currently shutting off power in the winter to reduce their litigation risk, rather than fixing their power distribution network. Now, Waste Management got into the act, by reducing “green waste” pickup to every two weeks.
Some of those inadequate service areas can be thought of as an inconvenience. Certainly, we can save our green waste for pickup every two weeks, we are able to conserve water and help minimize that problem, but when the electricity goes down, all our modern appliances no longer function, and everything goes dark. For this “Christmas Eve timed blackout,” I ran extension cords to my refrigerators and fired up a generator to keep our food from spoiling. I ignored the SCE website’s shaded advice, to move to a hotel for the duration, and used the time to improve my plan implementing emergency power during the next shutdown. The easiest part is to change out all my incandescent light bulbs for LEDs, reducing my home’s lighting power consumption by more than 80%. Next, I will set up and use a generator when it again becomes necessary. Finally, I intend to do a critical appliance power requirements survey to determine the minimum solar and electrical storage system I would need when the grid goes down. Using the data, I will decide on additional steps.
Yet, residents of the city and utility customers should not have to plan and implement ways to account for the utilities’ failure to provide a consistent and reliable product. They must be required to maintain adequate levels of service even under stressful conditions. I believed governmental agencies were providing oversight to keep these agencies on their toes. But I now realize it is time to think it through again. If you call the city of Santa Clarita, your county supervisor, your state representative and the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency, for each of these situations you will hear, “Water availability and power outages are not within the scope of our authority, we can call and complain also, but there is not much we can do.” Even in the case of green waste pickup, where Waste Management has a contract with the city of Santa Clarita, it has not appeared to make any difference.
So, for this year, instead of making resolutions to lose weight or exercise more, my resolutions will be centered around continually reminding our local elected officials of their past obligations. For example, I am looking forward to hearing the Santa Clarita City Council continue discussions about district-based elections, understanding why the issue of solar panels illegally installed in Canyon Country has not yet been resolved, and the council telling us when city ratepayers will start seeing the promised savings, created by converting the streetlights to LEDs.
I realize, 2020 has been a difficult year for all of us. With the pandemic and lockdowns hampering the economy, destroying small businesses and slowing critical services, we will need to expend effort to completely return to normal during the coming year. Hopefully, 12 months from now, we will look back on the year, reflect on all the good things accomplished, and return to hearing “Happy Days are Here Again” all around town.
Alan Ferdman is a Santa Clarita resident and a member of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee board.