DWP Poles on Sunset Raise Ire

A developer had planned to put three homes on the old Bernheimer Garden site, next to an apartment building on Sunset. Once the poles went up, the developer knew selling the homes would be difficult.

(This story about the Pole-Top Distribution Station was written in November 2016 and published in a local paper.)

Outside the Palisades Branch Library last Wednesday evening, the temperature was hot. But inside it was even hotter, as about 30 residents participated in an angry meeting that focused on the intended pole-top distribution station (PTDS) at 16980 Sunset, across from the western terminus of Marquez Avenue.

The L.A. DWP has already installed two 65-ft.-high poles in the parkway easement along Sunset, in front the former Bernheimer Gardens property and adjacent to an apartment building.

A developer who had acquired the Bernheimer property about three months ago, and had planned to build two homes on the site, was represented by his lawyer, a land-use consultant, two electrical consultants and the realtor.

During the public comment period, they told Catalina Hernandez, environmental supervisor for the City of L.A. Department of Public Works, that there hadn’t been proper notification for the sudden pole installation.

Attorney Alexandre Cornelius told Hernandez that the City–specifically the Department of Water and Power–was in violation of the Coastal Act, and that Sunset Boulevard is a scenic highway, which means that new utilities must go underground.

“There was no due process,” Cornelius said, referring to the  pole-top station. “People have been denied their rights.”

Realtor Kimberly Ryan said, “I’ve been representing this property for nine years and I finally had a buyer, and now you’ve devalued the property.”

She said she didn’t understand the City’s thinking that it was okay to install a 60-ft. PTDS above the Palisades High baseball field, but not okay to place one on DWP-owned property below the lower Marquez Elementary playground.

(There had been an earlier Coastal Commission hearing for the Temescal/Sunset PTDS above PaliHi.)

Electrical consultants in the audience told City officials that there’s an alternative to the PTDS on Sunset, that electricity wires could go underground or be put in a pad-mounted transformer. “I know if there’s a motivation, a better alternative can be found,” one consultant said.

Bill Herriot, DWP’s electrical service manager, responded that staff had told him that underground wiring was not possible at the site.

A resident from Edgewater Towers, which is below and just west of the DWP site, said, “We had no idea it [the PTDS] was happening until the day it went up. You just stick poles in the ground and say we can do this.”

Sarah Connor, president of the Pacific Palisades Residents Association, reminded Hernandez, “Councilman Bonin made a promise at the Marquez meeting [in March] that we would all be happy, no matter the cost.

“These poles destroy the views from the scenic highway. They should be placed in a way that they don’t violate the Coastal Act. This will be pursued to the highest levels of the law,” Conner promised.

Other audience members–such as Brian Deming, who lives in the Pacific Garden apartment building adjacent to the site–wanted to know if there was some way that Pacific Palisades residents could be more energy efficient or use alternative sources to keep the poles from having to remain as part of the community’s power grid.

“We have been monitoring the situation and we’re now at the point when we have no other options,” Herriot said. “We’re pretty much done.”

He recapped that an additional power station, Distributing Station 104, was supposed to be built in the Palisades in 1970-1971. The DWP acquired land off Marquez Avenue, just west of Marquez Elementary, for that purpose. But after the Sylmar earthquake in February 1971, the focus shifted from new construction to repairs citywide.

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 to supplement the one at Sunset and Via de la Paz. A department press release noted, “DS 29 is working at its designed capacity and will exceed its capacity within the next six years due to increasing electricity demand in the surrounding community.” Most everyone had underestimated how the widespread construction of large, energy-draining houses and the growing popularity of electric cars would make that situation so dire.

When the DWP announced its new 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. This forced the DWP and the City Council District 11 office to organize an 11-member task force, largely from the Marquez area, which met and provided recommendations for other sites in the western area of the Palisades.

DWP officials 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 this year, 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 PTDS. Each installation features two 60-ft. industrial-sized steel poles, but they would be removed after a permanent distribution station is built.

The DWP proposed placing one pole station at El Medio and Sunset; the second would go on its Marquez property.

Again, certain residents objected to those sites, even though these locations were the most cost-effective, and emailed Councilman Mike Bonin. He agreed to meet with residents and the DWP at Marquez Elementary in March.

At that meeting, people suggested other sites, including in front of the Bernheimer property (before it was sold to the developer) and on Temescal Canyon Road below Sunset.

This is one of the reasons why several people at last Wednesday’s meeting shouted at the DWP officials that they had not been informed about the location switch to 16980 Sunset. Since they had not attended the March meeting, they didn’t realize that Bonin had tasked DWP to consider other locations.

Suddenly, the poles went in at Temescal/Sunset–much to the surprise of apartment dwellers across the street on Haverford–and at Bernheimer/Sunset.

DWP officials admitted they had not realized that both stations are in the Coastal Zone, which requires a Coastal Development permit. Once that was known, construction on both projects was halted immediately.

A local Coastal Development permit hearing for the Temescal PTDS, which few people knew about, was held on October 18. Last Wednesday’s meeting dealt with the Bernheimer/Sunset PTDS.

Although the two PTDS stations are “temporary,” construction of a new permanent station (on a yet-to-be-decided site) may take at least four years. And Herriot warned that if a new station is not started soon, “We will have to continue to add [PTDS].”

Catalina Hernandez will take all comments into consideration and make a recommendation regarding the PTDS at Bernheimer/Sunset. If the station is given the go-ahead to the Coastal Commission, residents may file an appeal.

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