History of the DWP’s Efforts to Add a Power Distribution Station

(This CTN editor wrote the story below that appeared in the September 2012 edition of a local paper. A meeting held at Marquez school in April 2012 had resulted in the formation of the committee. That April meeting was loud and emotional, and the public comment session started with Marquez Elementary Principal Emily Williams inviting Isabella Sehidoglu, a fifth-grade student at Marquez, to read a persuasive essay she wrote against the building of a substation near the school. )

This distribution station was built in 1936 to power 300 to 500 homes and has been upgraded several times well over its originally planned expansion capability.

The formation of a Los Angeles DWP citizen task force comes just five months after a coalition of Marquez Knolls residents, parents and L.A. School Board members voiced their opposition to a distribution station proposed for a parcel next to Marquez Charter Elementary School.

However, DWP’s plans for a new distribution station on the Marquez parcel stretches back decades. Claimed by eminent domain by DWP in the early 1970s, the parcel in question is located on an existing landslide along Marquez Avenue, adjacent to one home and across the street from several other homes. Pacific Palisades is served by distribution station (DS-29), which was built in 1936 at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Via de la Paz, according to Jane Galbraith, DWP public affairs specialist.

This distribution center (DS-29) was built to power 300 to 500 homes, and has since been upgraded several times, well over its originally planned expansion capability.

DWP project studies indicated that a second distribution station would be needed to serve the Palisades by 1968, according to the public documents dated 1958. In 1969, the Los Angeles Times reported that plans for a new distribution center to be located on the Marquez lot were outlined for directors of the Pacific Palisades Homeowners’ Association by H.L. Holland, DWP distribution center manager.

The L.A. Planning Department held a public hearing on the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) sought by DWP in May 1971. Although opponents cited concerns in regards to safety and design, a CUP for the Marquez site, which was one of three sites studied, was approved in June that year.

According to public documents, the Marquez lot was chosen primarily because of its low cost. Eminent domain proceedings in California require that the land’s value be reimbursed to the property owners upon condemnation proceedings. The Marquez lot was estimated at the time to cost the DWP $84,700 in land costs. The other sites considered in 1971 included an area between Marquez Avenue, Bollinger Drive and Sunset that would have required the demolition of several homes (DWP estimated land purchase cost of $352,000) and the business block on Marquez, and a site on Ida Street between Marquez and Edgar Street, which at the time included a single-family residence (DWP estimated  purchase cost of $366,00).

Ultimately, DWP had planned to start construction for the second distribution station on the Marquez lot in July 1972 but shelved the project for unknown reasons, according to public documents. Nearly three decades and several blackouts later, DWP officials began to revisit the idea again.

However, this time the alternative sites, along with the Marquez lot, included a one-acre parcel located within the boundaries of Topanga State Park along Los Liones Drive behind Fire Station 23, the Getty’s Sunset site that was sold in 2011 to Chabad of Pacific Palisades for a new Jewish community center, and the old Bollinger/Marquez/Sunset location.

Today, the latter site would require removal of Ronny’s Market, Ronny’s Park Lane Cleaners, Paws ‘n’ Claws and Vittorio’s Ristorante, according to a comparative site evaluation prepared for the DWP Environmental Services Division in July 2011.

In 2010, DWP began a comparative site evaluation between the alternative sites mentioned above, studying several environmental factors, including aesthetics, air quality, biological resources, geology and soils and other topics. When the evaluation was completed in 2011, DWP identified the one-acre parcel located behind Fire Station 23 as having the highest environmental score (a B grade), while the Marquez lot received one of the lowest grades, including an ‘F’ in geology and soils.

The Chabad and Bollinger sites received ‘Fs’ in land use and planning. According to public documents, the language in the report may have implied linearity between the grading scales ‘when in fact it may have not been so,’ meaning an ‘F’ grade may be magnitudes worse than a ‘D.’

Shawn Neil, project manager of the firm that conducted the evaluation, stated in an e-mail to DWP: “The scale that was used is based on a [California Environmental Quality Act] analysis, and an F grade is indicative of factors that would result in a likely significant and unavoidable impact, i.e., the mitigation would probably not be available (or feasible) to reduce the environmental impact to less than significant.”

Subsequently, in October 2011, representatives from DWP and City Councilman Rosendahl’s office arranged a meeting with ‘individuals of influence around the fire station site (Parcel 9B or the Los Liones site)’ with the goal of informing and persuading them to support DWP’s efforts to acquire the property from California State Parks.

The residents who attended that meeting, “were strongly opposed to the preferred site next to the fire station on Los Liones, and said they would support LADWP building on its Marquez Canyon site,” according to an internal DWP memo written by Thomas Dailor, an environmental supervisor for DWP, to Mark Sedlacek, director of environmental affairs for DWP, and Chuck Holloway of the DWP’s Environmental Affairs Department.

The sign-in sheet of that November 3, 2011 meeting, excluding representatives of DWP and Rosendahl’s office, included key Los Liones Canyon volunteers and advocates such as Norma Spak, Shirley Haggstrom and Randy Young, and nearby residents Barbara Kohn and Bob Ramsdell. Also present at the meeting was Suzanne Goode, a biologist for California State Parks who worked closely with the core group of people that helped restore and create Los Liones Gateway Park.

Kohn, who is now president of the Pacific Palisades Community Council, was acting as the Council’s Area 1 representative at the meeting, which was described in public documents as a “community meeting” with individuals of “influence.”

“I left the meeting feeling that this was going to be a situation where one area of the community will be pitted against the another,” Kohn said. “My concern is that children are precious no matter where they are, whether at Marquez or at the Waldorf School [across Sunset from Los Liones]. These are the things we need to think about.”

Kohn said that the environmental site evaluation of the sites being considered was not presented during the meeting. When asked if those present agreed to support the Marquez site after expressing opposition to the Los Liones parcel, Kohn said: “I don’t remember the meeting that well. It was more than six months ago.”

Kulla said that he heard those present at the November 2011 meeting say that “they didn’t want the distribution center to be located at Los Liones.” However, Kulla said that he did not hear a consensus of support for the Marquez Canyon site next to the school, but that “this doesn’t mean that certain individuals [who attended the meeting] didn’t express support for a substation at the Marquez lot.”’

As a result of that meeting, DWP suggested holding a second gathering with representatives of Councilman Rosendahl’s office and neighbors of both sides of the issue, according to public documents.

DWP General Manager Ronald O. Nichols, Rosendahl and Zimmer met together and agreed to the formation of a task force comprised of community members to find an agreeable location for the new distribution center. Nichols said in a June 6 statement that “[DWP] will seek community assistance in identifying, evaluating and comparing sites to meet the needs of our customers while preserving community values.”

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