By Sue Pascoe
In order to meet the power demands in Pacific Palisades over the next several years, the LADWP may need to build as many as five pole-top distribution stations (PTDSs) in the community.
This warning surfaced March 8, when the Department of Public Works board denied an appeal to remove the newly installed pole-top station on the parkway at 16980 Sunset (formerly the entrance to the departed Bernheimer Gardens, near the western end of Marquez Avenue).
By denying the appeal filed by 16980 Sunset property owner Steve Sommers, the Public Works commissioners supported the DWP’s two existing, 61-ft.-high pole-top stations (the second is on Temescal Canyon Road, just below Sunset).
DWP official Eric Hartman told the five commissioners, “This is not the last [pole-top station]. We will need to locate two more in the Palisades—maybe even a third.”
He added, “This is a very challenging situation: Power is compromised” in Pacific Palisades.
On March 9, a permit was issued and will take effect 20 days after the California Coastal Commission receives it, allowing the pole-top project to go forward—barring any further appeals.
At last Wednesday’s hearing, Hartman took the board through the history of power distribution in the Palisades, starting in 1937 when the town’s main distribution station was built on Sunset at Via de la Paz. A second substation (DS 104) was initially going to be built in 1971 on land owned by DWP, just west of Marquez School, but after the Sylmar earthquake that same year, it was put on hold.
DS 104 construction was further postponed when the town did not see much growth through the 1980s. By 2012, however, the DWP knew that a new distribution station was sorely needed for the western side of town.
When the DWP announced its intention to build DS 104 on its Marquez property, parents at Marquez Elementary and nearby residents objected that the station was too close to the school.
In response, then-City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and the DWP organized an 11-member task force, largely from the Marquez area, to research potential sites and provide recommendations.
DWP staff systematically investigated these sites, even pleading to state parks for a DS station on Los Leones parkland (behind Fire Station 29). This request was rejected.
In January 2016, DWP officials attended a Pacific Palisades Community Council meeting and said that to keep electricity reliable in the Marquez and Castellammare areas, it would have to install two temporary pole-top stations to ensure reliable electrical power in the Palisades until a second substation can be built. One PTDS would be built on the Marquez lot owned by DWP and a second at El Medio and Sunset.
Residents close to both locations objected, and reached out to Councilman Mike Bonin, who arranged a public meeting at Marquez School in March 2016. He told residents that if they didn’t like the proposed sites, they should find alternates.
After that meeting, about 122 emails went to the councilman’s office with the same wording:
“Thank you for reconsidering the location for the new electrical facility for the Marquez area. We strongly support locating this facility on Sunset Boulevard and especially think that the location just east of Marquez and Sunset in front of the empty lot (often called the Bernheimer lot) is the right spot.
“No electrical facilities of any kind should be located next to Marquez Elementary.
“Thank you again for identifying feasible alternatives for our school community and being willing to implement them.”
The three 61-foot poles that comprise each pole-top station were then installed at their current locations: one above the PaliHi baseball field, the other on the long-vacant Bernheimer property.
Steven Sommers and his business partner were in escrow to purchase the Sunset property last October, intending to build three ocean view homes, and were understandably shocked when the poles were suddenly installed by the DWP.
Neither Sommers nor his neighbors—the owner and residents of a 47-unit apartment building—had been notified.
Subsequently, the city learned that although the poles had already gone up at the two sites, they were in the coastal zone and needed coastal hearings. At a December hearing, in spite of opposition from residents in the apartment building, the property’s owner and the Pacific Palisades Residents Association, hearing examiner Catalina Hernandez said that the case had not been made to deny the poles, and she approved completion of each station.
Sommers’ lawyer, Alexandre Cornelius, immediately filed an appeal.
At the March 8 hearing for the appeal, Commissioner Joel Jacinto asked DWP’s Hartman, “How temporary are the poles?”
“Until we can build a new distribution station,” Hartman said. “It could be in excess of three to four years because there could be legal challenges.” He also warned that temporary could become permanent, noting that “there have been structures in other areas of the city that are still there.”
Sommers did not deny that the western Palisades needed more electricity; instead, he asked commissioners to uphold the appeal until pad-mounted transformers could be placed on the property as an alternative to the poles. He offered to reimburse DWP the $61,000 it had already spent to install the poles.
Pad-mounted transformers were dismissed by Hartman because the DWP has never installed them anywhere in the city for a situation like this.
Commissioner Michael Davis asked, “Is it new technology? How long has it been out? Have we used it before?”
“Around 2000, and we’ve used it for single-family residences,” Hartman answered. He argued that a pad-mounted structure would not work at the Sunset location because it would need to be surrounded by a 10-ft. wall and its size would be roughly 60 by 100 feet.
The commissioners asked to hear Councilman Bonin’s representative, Debbie Dyner Harris. “We support the application and deny the appeal,”she said.“DWP has put these [poles] up all over the city and they are allowed to do it. There is no issue that we can see.” She also said that “a permanent distributing station has been a problem. By delaying this you are delaying a public utility.” Commissioner Davis asked her, “Does the councilman have a position on pad-mounted?”
“He will support it, but has deferred to DWP,” Harris said.
“He can support it if DWP can do it?”Davis asked.
“Yes,” Harris responded.
Several Palisades residents testified against the poles, as well as PPRA representative Brian Deming. Two residents argued that the poles should remain at the Bernheimer site, rather than near Marquez school.
After Hartman told commissioners that Palisades circuits are overloaded by 125 percent, they voted to deny the appeal and ruled that the DWP could move forward with the project.
Harris thanked them and said, “On behalf of the council office, we need to provide power to thousands of residents.”
Afterwards, Sommers told the News, “We have offered an easement for the construction of a pad-mounted transformer to replace the pole-top distribution station, and are very disappointed that LADWP has summarily dismissed this without ever preparing a conceptual design for a pad-mounted option.
“The pad-mounted option is a tremendous solution that would benefit the neighborhood while serving LADWP’s needs,”
Sommers continued.“Nobody wants to see this massive industrial installation suspended in air. Given that this installation could remain for many years, we find it shocking that LADWP is unwilling to explore our offer further for the benefit of the community and adjacent homeowners. We are trying to promote a win-win solution, and feel our offer is extremely generous. The best option is being neglected in order to save a few months, in a shockingly short-sighted move.”
Sommers hopes residents will sign a petition urging DWP to explore the pad-mount option (change.org/p/protect-sunset-boule- vard-s-scenic-highway?recruiter=172453614 &utm_source=share_petition&utm_med ium=copylink).
Meanwhile, the owners of the 16980 Sunset property are appealing the city’s decision to the California Coastal Commission.