SCE: Updates to Make Your Head Spin

Southern California Edison workers and equipment wrangle out and replace another telephone pole—one of several recent upgrade projects announced by the company causing overnight and daytime power outages. Photo by Bonnie Morgan

Southern California Edison (SCE) has been particularly busy this year.

With an October restart of the undergrounding project that stalled in 2015 due to the discovery of Native American remains, ongoing telephone pole replacement, and concerns about the consequences of Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), in Topanga alone there are three SCE projects going on almost simultaneously.

Except for an early morning incident on Monday, September 10, when a car crash took down a telephone pole at Entrada Road and Topanga Canyon Boulevard that knocked out power in the area for the day, Topanga denizens are almost inured to the traffic delays caused by SCE’s scheduled installations.

In 2013, SCE implemented new pole designs and construction standards, and in 2014, launched a comprehensive pole replacement program, concentrating first on poles located in high-wind and high-fire risk areas. Since 2014, SCE has replaced 54,000 poles in these areas.

Since fire season seems to be year-round lately, SCE’s Wildfire Mitigation and Grid Resiliency program is their effort “to strengthen our system and protect against a variety of natural and man-made threats.”

Despite the fact that a quarter of SCE’s service territory of about nine million acres is considered “High Fire Risk,” nothing has quite raised the ire of mountain residents as much as the PSPS. At the September 11 informational presentation by SCE for the Las Virgenes Homeowners Association (LVHF), representatives explained that it is “implementing a variety of tools and technologies to advance fire safety even further throughout our system…that serves approximately 15 million people.”

For instance, “Operational Practices” during Red Flag days dictate that the company will not automatically restore a broken circuit until SCE crews physically inspect the lines. PSPS will pre-emptively shut down power only during the most extreme weather conditions. SCE says it is aware that these outages create additional risks for essential services and is evaluating use of this measure during extreme conditions.

Other practices include next-generation technology, vegetation management, and 24-hour situational awareness with incident command teams when conditions warrant. They are also installing weather stations and high-definition cameras to help fire agencies assess and respond quickly to reported fires.

SCE is also reaching out to communities, and while these presentations go far towards informing and assuring the public of their efforts, many attendees found more questions were asked than SCE had answers for.

David Seeley, Project Manager for this long-delayed SCE project, appeared at the September morning mixer of the Topanga Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re putting the tail back on the dog,” Seeley quipped as he introduced himself and reminded everyone of the initial undergrounding project. “The undergrounding is 98 percent completed and the infrastructure is installed,” he said. “We have 30 feet of conduit to put in, which will take about a week to complete. I’m committing to having crews on the ground around October 16 for no more than three weeks, then a break while we wait for the wire crew to install two tiers of wires.”

The burning question of the day was: “Why did you stop?”

“Basically, there was an archaeological discovery of Native American remains,” Seeley replied, adding that it took time as the county negotiated with Native American groups to reclaim the remains. “Then, our contractor vacated the job and as we negotiated their return, two other projects came into the canyon. There were three massive capital projects in the canyon together.”

In response to a question about a power outage during conversion from overhead to underground power supply, Seeley replied that they arerequired to give 48-hours’ notice. “We can notify you weeks in advance once the substation is removed and the two projects are energized.

Seely explained that “Cutover will be a negotiation with LAC, SCE and the contractor. When we and the contractor announce the conversion, it won’t be random,” Seeley said. “When the cutover is scheduled, every single door will get a hanger with information. I will personally be on the street weeks in advance; maybe we’ll call another Town Council meeting.”

“Edison’s a big wheel and it’s hard to turn that wheel sometimes.”

Melora Marshall, on behalf of Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, offered some much-appreciated praise to SCE, saying, “We were destined to lose one of our night-time shows this summer. We called you and [you] changed the schedule. I can’t tell you how many people that affected. Thank you.”

If electrical infrastructure issues arent’t enough, Topanga residents also have to cope with the National Flood Insurance Program’s revised flood insurance requirements and updated Flood Insurance Rating Maps (FIRMs) that take effect on December 21. Residents are scurrying to see if they’re now in a flood zone and checking in with their insurance agents to see if their rates will go up and by how much.

FEMA has revised the Flood Insurance Rating Maps (FIRMs) for Topanga, Old Topanga, Cold Creek, Dark and Escondido Canyons. The purpose of the maps is to more accurately identify Special Flood Hazard Areas in these communities.

The new FIRMs take effect December 21, 2018. Below are links to the new FIRMs and other helpful informational materials. At press time, we were waiting for DPW to approve more detailed information. As it stood, Steven Frasher, Community Engagement Liaison/
Public Information Officer, Los Angeles County Public Works, provided an image of the mapped area around Topanga, and available links where residents can access copies of the notification letter and the exhibits,


Frequently Asked Questions on the new FEMA maps, numerous related FEMA Fact Sheets, and the September 15 Open House* slide presentation posted on the LA County Public Works website:

For any additional questions on the revised FEMA maps, contact Public Works Senior Civil Engineer Patricia Wood at (626) 458-6131 or

*Editor’s Note: At the September Open House, seven County DPW representatives hosted an open house to explain the Floodplain Management Program and answer questions. Only two people showed up: a representative of the Topanga Town Council and Roger Pugliese, representative and board member of TASC (Topanga Association for a Scenic Canyon.)


Flavia Potenza

Flavia Potenza is executive editor of the Messenger Mountain News. She is also a founding member of the 40-year old Topanga Messenger that closed its doors in 2016. She can be reached at

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