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SPUSD Power Outages Prompt Informal Complaint

A recent South Pasadena Unified School District school board meeting announced several upcoming fundraisers and social events — along with a contrasting superintendent report concerning frequent SPUSD power outages.

“A topic that most of us have experienced, and I’ve been reporting on this monthly — the power outages. As you know, for the last six to seven months we’ve been talking about this,” Superintendent Geoff Yantz said to school board members.

Yantz reported that over the course of a year there have been a total of 27 power outages, both during and after school hours. Yantz also noted that seven of those outages had happened within the “last few weeks,” at the time of the school board meeting, Nov. 8.

One particular instance, which Yantz described as “critical,” happened last spring when power went out at a SPUSD facility.

“It was quite a significant outage, and it affected the community in different ways; the power was out for most of the day,” Yantz explained. “For us, it ended up disrupting our network system and damaged fiber optic lines that feed our schools.”

“The following Monday, we had Advanced Placement testing. Even though the electricity was working, because of the impact [the outage] had on our network system we didn’t have access to the AP test. You can imagine the anxiety on the teachers, students and everyone involved. … We had to move the students to an alternative site in order to take the test,” he said.

South Pasadena is serviced by Southern California Edison and all of the SPUSD schools are being served by a circuit that crosses into a “high fire risk area. Power may be shut off during a Public Safety Power Shutoff to prevent wildfires,” according to the SCE Power Outage Awareness map.

Following the number of SPUSD power outages and their impacts, Yantz said that the School Board requested a meeting with SCE two times to understand the situation — once during the summer and another during October? He also said that he contacted city officials to ask for support in this matter.

“(SCE) explained that these things are unpredictable and that there are squirrels and mylar balloons that cause these outages,” he said about the first meeting with SCE. “We shared out concern about the impact on the district and kept in communication with [SCE]. … During the meeting I asked what preventative measures are planned and there was no plan shared.”

The second meeting was scheduled with South Pasadena city officials and the city’s Public Works department to follow up on the outage issues.

“Fast forward to the [SCE] meeting that I mentioned during the [November] school board meeting. In that meeting we asked what investments were being made in the city to improve the power grid and structures to prevent basic power outages and no commitment was shared,” Yantz said.

The school district felt compelled to file an informal complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission. The complaint filed details SPUSD’s experience with SCE and frequent power outages affecting all six district facilities — those being five schools and a district office, according to Yantz.

Yantz affirmed that SPUSD is now monitoring the power outages with careful detail and the district is waiting for a response back from CPUC. Yantz hopes that, by filing the complaint, more infrastructural upgrades are made to SCE equipment servicing SPUSD locations.

SCE spokeswoman Diane Castro responded to SPUSD’s concerns and said, “We understand the power outages in the South Pasadena Unified School District area have been a hardship for the district.

“While there are factors outside our control such as extreme weather conditions [windstorms] and wildlife intrusion, we continue to manage the vegetation around our power lines and have made and will continue to make system upgrades to mitigate the risk of future outages.

“We have ongoing meetings with the South Pasadena Unified School District officials,” Castro said. “SCE fully appreciates their concern and will continue to meet with District staff to discuss what we’re doing to provide safe and reliable service.”

Yantz added that the “power outages aren’t just affecting our schools. It’s affecting the community around our schools. We have updated equipment at our [school] sites. … My point is that it’s not just SPUSD facilities experiencing outages, it’s parts of the community that experience this.”

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