Power Outages Concern Area Residents 

Many locals said power loss, and its frequency in the Silver Lake area, is a growing concern. Photo: Fabio Piscicelli / Flickr Creative Commons.

Silver Lake had lost electrical power 16 times by September in 2017, with recent outages lasting up to 10 hours for some over Labor Day weekend.

Social media was buzzing for answers when 9,300 Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power (LADWP) customers had no power as a string of outages plagued Silver Lake and Los Feliz September 2nd through 4th.

Many locals said power loss, and its frequency in the area, is a growing concern.

“I’ve always felt the electrical grid was very fragile here because in exceptionally hot weather or other high-load circumstances it often falters,” said Silver Lake resident of 30 years, Barry Isaacson, who said he followed updates regarding the outages on Nextdoor.com. “This [past] summer it’s been in meltdown.”

He said many locals come to expect power outages every summer.

“I don’t want to be quoted as ragging on DWP because they’re good guys doing a very difficult job,” said Isaacson. “But the infrastructure is completely [expletive]. Excuse the French.”

Much of the underground electrical infrastructure on which Silver Lake and surrounding areas depend was built between 1930 and 1960. That infrastructure was intended for smaller homes with fewer electricity requirements than those of many current homes in the area, according to a spokesperson for the LADWP.

Isaacson said some fault belongs to consumers, who he believes overburden the system with bigger and more appliances.

But he still questions why a “sophisticated” city like Los Angeles “seems to have a third-world electrical grid.”

“It’s part of the social compact isn’t it?” Isaacson said. “You pay your taxes … so you expect the electrical service you receive to be robust and able to adjust to extreme circumstances. To have something in reserve.”

Issaccson’s power was out for about 24 hours in July. He said it makes a person feel less secure in their home when the power goes out for that long.

“We’re used to getting fluctuations and brown outs and outages at the height of summer, but this summer was so bad that I think it almost reached a breaking point in terms of what the community was willing to put up with,” he said.

Representatives from the LADWP addressed community concerns about the recent outages at a Silver Lake Neighborhood Council (SLNC) committee meeting in September.

“We had been receiving some complaints or questions about it,” said SLNC boardmember Jerome Courshon. “When the power goes out for many hours it impacts the businesses that are affected by that outage, and obviously it affects people’s lives. So we wanted to know what was going on. … Sixteen power outages in literally eight months is kind of ridiculous, you know.”

Increased burden on aging utility systems in hot months can create problems, said David Siewert, a LADWP district supervisor. But “not all old infrastructure is bad infrastructure,” he said, and it is only one of many factors that lead to power outages.

Damage from corrosion, from tree limbs or roots, and mylar balloons interfering with cables are often inciting factors of power failures, he said.

“Unfortunately [restoring power is] more than just someone going out to flip a circuit breaker, like they would do in their house,” Siewert said. “Most times it requires a skilled crew to go out and assess and diagnostically find the problem.”

According to the LADWP, 70% of the 2017 outages in Silver Lake have been the result of faulty infrastructure and the utility currently has more than $1 million budgeted to replace underground cable in the Silver Lake area.

“What we’ve done is identify the problem areas, write the required infrastructure replacement jobs and we’re now in the process of doing it,” said Siewert. Some of those jobs could take a year or more to complete, he said.

Work will include cable, transformer and pole replacements.

According to Siewert, there is no quick fix and replacing that much infrastructure requires skilled engineers and crew workers, especially in the case of aged infrastructure.

Silver Lake is not alone with its power outage problems. According to the LADWP, Los Feliz and Atwater Village have each experienced six power outages so far in 2017.

“I think the DWP needs to figure out what to do because there is frequency in this,” said Los Feliz resident Rafik Ghazarian. “In the summer when there’s high demand for electricity, they need to figure out how to ramp up the grid and the transformers.”

Ghazarian, who said he followed Twitter and Nextdoor for updates on the blackouts, said there’s more to be concerned about than just the lights and air conditioner.

According to Ghazarian, he spent 45 minutes helping his mother, who is in her 80s, climb the stairs to her bedroom when the elevator at her Los Feliz condominium stopped working during one of the most recent blackouts.

Brooke Delaney, who lives near Rowena Avenue and Griffith Park Boulevard, said her power went out multiple times in the days before and during the Labor Day weekend, once for 10 hours.

“Mainly I tried to follow [LADWP] on Twitter because it seemed more up-to-date and easier than trying to get somebody on the phone,” she said.

According to Delaney, she has lived in the area for about three years and this year was the first time she experienced an outage.

“I was mostly concerned for our neighbors, because a lot of them are a lot older and couldn’t really handle the heat wave as it was,” she said.

Delaney said she had family staying with her during the outages in her 1,000 square foot apartment.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do with our guests,” she said. “Were we going to lose all the food in the refrigerator? We didn’t know.”

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