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Downtown Businesses Charged Up Over Edison Power Outages:

Representatives from Southern California Edison met with local businesses and civic representatives to respond to complaints and inquiries concerning the recent power outages in the downtown area termed simply “not acceptable” by Jeffrey King of King’s Seafood Co., the owner of i Cugini and Ocean Ave Seafood restaurants on Ocean Avenue.

The depth of the concerns and the importance of the meeting, held Tuesday morning, July 24, at i Cugini, were evident from the cast of participants – Executive Director of Bayside District Corporation Kathleen Rawson, President and CEO of Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce Jim Lynch, Director of Environmental and Public Works Management at the City Craig Perkins, a dozen or more downtown business leaders like King and the City’s Promenade Maintenance Supervisor Eddie Greenberg.

On the Edison side, the company not only brought Mark Olson, its Region Manager for Local Public Affairs (and 15-year Santa Monican and former board member and chairman of the Chamber here), but also William Bryan, Vice President, Business Customer Division, as well as another three staff.

Bryan was probably there from the Edison corporate office because City Manager P. Lamont Ewell had written Edison President John Fielder last week, citing “a long string of problems that have plagued the Edison distribution system in downtown Santa Monica over the past few years” and urging Fielder “to attend this meeting or…send your senior staff representative so that we can identify solutions to the problem and reach agreement on how to move forward with an aggressive plan for the company’s implementation of the needed improvements.”

Restaurateur King displayed a poster listing 10 dates since May 2002 on which downtown had suffered “total blackouts” of substantial duration (at least one business later said there was at least one date missing) and explained that four blackouts per year at his two restaurants cost him $80,000 a year, and “this is just the tip of the iceberg” when one considers the loss of future revenues from unhappy customers, the costs to employees and other “ripple effects.” He concluded, “With the resources they have, we would hope that Edison could fix this problem as soon as they want to.”

The City’s Perkins said that while the City is responsible for water, sewage and the like, when it comes to electricity it has “a perpetual franchise contract with Edison,” and he said the company “must identify the remaining upgrade needs.” He later said that Edison collects “$120 million in revenue each year” in Santa Monica, asked how much comes back in investment and maintenance, and concluded, “We must insist on reinvestment.”

Dr. Michael Farzam, whose family owns three hotels on Ocean Avenue, cited “a couple hundred thousand dollars in revenue loss,” explained that his properties must keep boxes of flashlights and candles on hand, and said it had become a serious security issue and liability issue. Bill Chertok, a partner in the Bryan Cave law firm at Broadway and 2nd Street, outlined the impact of the blackouts on its operations and posed “three questions: First, does Edison know what the problem is? Second, do they know how to fix it? I think the answer to both is, Yes. And I think they know the third question.”

In response to all this, Edison’s Olson and more technically oriented Bola Ayorinde delivered a slide-assisted presentation detailing the company’s service to its 125,000 customer accounts in Santa Monica (21,500 of these in the downtown area), favorably comparing its “reliability performance” in that downtown area with Edison overall and with investor-owned utilities statewide, showing an improvement in the frequency and duration of downtown emergency outages between the last six months of 2006 and the first six months of 2007, and listing Edison upgrades in the area in the last 12 months.

i Cugini’s King responded in what seemed to be a voice that represented the gathering: “We’re not interested in that. We want solutions. It’s not working. It’s not acceptable.” Bayside’s Rawson suggested that Edison “stop putting Band-Aids on and get this circuit fixed.” Sam King, partner and cousin of Jeff King, said they have 12 other restaurants in Edison territory without any such blackout problems. An event planner said that he cautioned clients against planning events in Santa Monica because the power might go out on, for example, their daughter’s wedding reception.

Many complained about Edison’s Suntower Circuit which went down (as manhole covers reportedly went up) one year ago this week in a particularly severe power outage. Edison’s Ayorinde, while acknowledging that Suntower is “one of the major challenges,” said the company had “identified the work that needs to be done,” and VP Bryan said that the answer was not to replace the Suntower Circuit but to identify the problems and fix them.

The two clearest answers supplied by Edison that morning were Olson’s plain statement that “there is not a supply issue in Santa Monica,” that despite local business and property growth the company has the necessary capacity here, and Bryan’s answer to Rawson’s call for a timeline: “I don’t know what the timing is.”

Beyond that, it was Bryan’s oft-repeated statement that “we need to make a full assessment” and “then to get back and communicate.”

But Edison’s Olson did conclude the gathering by announcing that his daughter was getting married in October, and the wedding would be in Santa Monica, the guests would stay in Santa Monica and they would utilize Santa Monica restaurants.

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