Thursday, January 12, 2012

Around Town: Suburbia and the power grid

When we moved to La Cañada in the mid-1970s, we expected our power to go out with every storm. We knew we were moving to the tules — too far east of Westwood to order La Barbera’s pizza and too far west of Manhattan to order anything.

La Cañada was not yet an incorporated city. Michael Cunningham (LCHS ‘70) was not yet a famous author (“The Hours”). We bought our books in Pasadena at Vroman's, not in La Cañada. People rode horses down Foothill Boulevard, past La Cañada Feed and Seed. We had rattlesnakes. Despite the civilizing influence of the Thursday Club, the various guilds and the entire neighborhood of Flintridge, there was a kind of Wild West feel to La Cañada.

When my husband and I moved here, La Cañada was considered semi-rural. Our parents sort of freaked out. You'd think we'd moved to Chula Vista or something.

During the 1980s, the change began. Some La Cañadans began to cash in. They filed for lot splits. Folks would legally split their property in two, build a big spec house on the new lot, and sell the new house for a lot of money.

The town gradually changed from “semi rural” to “suburban.”

So it was a surprise to have the power go out during the recent windstorms. One expected outages out in the hinterlands. One does not expect a power outage in a suburb.

Back in the day, our power would go out with every rainstorm and with every windstorm. Here in town, folks debated about whether to underground the electrical lines. As we became suburban, lines were upgraded and largely placed underground. The outages became rare.

But not all the lines went underground.

Now the stakes are higher. There are four seasons in California. They are earthquake, fire, mudslide and windstorm. In the last two years, our city and our city planners have faced three out of four. Not fun.

The issue is today isn’t just about undergrounding. It’s about the entire grid. Contributing Valley Sun writer Sara Cardine last week pointed out that after the recent windstorm outage, “[a] number of residents questioned whether the city’s current energy infrastructure is sufficient to support the increased number — and size — of homes built in recent decades.” (“Storm spotlights city’s power problems,” Dec. 15.)

And now, the PUC, along with our local officials, will begin to investigate. Solutions will follow.

In the meantime, may your lights stay on, may your Christmas be merry and bright and may your Menorah (the low-tech, non-electrical kind) continue to shine for freedom and hope.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.

Valley Sun Around Town: Suburbia and the power grid

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