Representatives from Southern California Edison were politely grilled by the Santa Barbara City Council about the increasing number — and lengthening duration — of “unplanned power outages” afflicting the downtown business district. Santa Barbara has always been at the tail end of Edison’s service district, but the problems posed by older equipment, deferred maintenance, and fewer workers achieved critical mass during First Thursday last October. That’s when an outage forced the Granada Theatre to cancel a Tony Bennett concert, and follow-up outages over the next several days inflicted hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses on surrounding businesses. In 2014, there were 33 such outages downtown, up from 17 the year before.
Edison representatives assured councilmembers they were accelerating the rate at which they replace and repair problematic equipment. The company is planning to hire five additional repair crews, prune 20,000 trees, install 160 poles, and spend $5.7 million in the coming year. Mayor Helene Schneider said that sounded like a lot but wasn’t sure that it actually was. In a tone cooperative but stern, Schneider warned company reps, “Don’t mess with Old Spanish Days.” Councilmembers Bendy White and Gregg Hart argued that City Hall needs to weigh in more strategically on behalf of Edison’s infrastructure improvements before the Public Utilities Commission. They urged company reps to keep the council better apprised of such opportunities.