Barger motion pushes to investigate legal options to mitigate power shutoffs

Crews work at a Southern California Edison facility in Valencia as the company implements a public safety power shut-off (PSPS) in an effort to mitigate fire risks during dry, windy weather in Santa Clarita on Monday. Bobby Block/The Signal
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Los Angeles County Counsel could investigate legal options to mitigate the impacts of future public safety power shutoffs, following a series of Southern California Edison events that left thousands of residents, including those in the Santa Clarita Valley, without power over the recent weeks. 

The move would come if the county Board of Supervisors approves a motion brought forth by County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes the SCV. Acton and Agua Dulce are among the most frequently impacted communities in the area that have been affected by the power shutoffs.  

If approved, the County Counsel will have to investigate “all legal options” for the county in an effort to mitigate the impacts of future shutoffs, which could include joining the Acton Town Council’s motion for party status, or filing its own, for the California Public Utilities Commission’s order that examines its rules allowing electric utilities to de-energize power lines in case of dangerous conditions that could spark wildfires. A report of all existing CPUC rules related to SoCal Edison’s PSPS’ program must be reported back to the board within 30 days. 

The move would also greenlight sending Gov. Gavin Newsom and the CPUC a letter requesting additional reviews of the utility’s PSPS program, “including the need to address proper notification and communication to impacted communities, and to mandate substantial additional mitigation measures as a requirement for the continuation of the PSPS program,” according to the motion. 

Most recently, SoCal Edison issued a series of power shutoffs that left thousands of SCV residents in the dark during Thanksgiving and ahead of the Christmas holiday due to red flag warnings for critical fire weather conditions. 

Among those affected on Thanksgiving was Agua Dulce resident Rosemary Moffat, who said she has suffered the “outage frenzy” for more than a year, with power shutoffs that she said have lasted from three hours up to eight hours. Since mid-October, Acton and Agua Dulce have been subject to five PSPS events.

“In my little town of Agua Dulce, for many of us, everything goes off when the power goes off and it puts hundreds of residents in danger every time it happens. We have no way to communicate to the outside world,” she said. 

SoCal Edison officials have said the utility works to limit the number of affected customers and frequently monitors weather conditions, which “is one of the ways we can predict wildfire risk in real time,” utility spokesman Paul Griffo said in a previous story. 

The utility’s notification system, however, creates confusion as notifications arrive too frequently and is often incorrect about the timing of PSPS events and fails to provide accurate information on expected actions related to the blackouts, according to Barger’s motion and several residents who have raised objections to the shutoffs. 

“As many residents are now working from home, students are doing remote learning, and with no alternatives available under the Safer-at-Home public health orders, many are left with no options and have run out of patience,” reads the motion. “While our residents and communities understand the risk of wildfires and the intent of the PSPS events, they are tired of bearing the brunt of the impact to ensure that SCE’s facilities do not potentially create new dangers to their health and safety.” 

The Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. 

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