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Business

Santa Barbara Businesses Take Aim at Edison Service Woes

Petition drive mounted after recent power outages in downtown district

Sick of living with worry that another power outage might again strike downtown Santa Barbara, a group of local businesses has put together a petition to fight future losses in income.

So far, 38 business owners have signed a petition to be sent to Southern California Edison President Pedro Pizarro, asking the company providing electricity to the area to make fixing “crumbling electrical infrastructure” in the Santa Barbara Business District a top priority in 2015.

Reached for comment this week, the regional purveyor of electricity maintained the company was already working to improve reliability through a combination of maintenance and equipment upgrades.

Opal Restaurant and Bar owners Richard Yates and Tina Takaya sent a letter to local businesses in December urging them to sign and join the recent effort to help prevent future frequent power failures.

The petition can be signed through Jan. 31, but Yates said that date could be extended.

Two power outages during peak dining times last October made the situation more dire — outages Yates said SCE admitted were caused by equipment failures.

After talking with SCE officials at a Santa Barbara Regional Chamber of Commerce meeting late last year, and speaking with officials again at a Santa Barbara Downtown Organization meeting, business owners felt like they hadn’t gotten the seriousness — and urgency — across to electricity providers.

“It doesn’t make sense to have constant power outages when the technology is there to create a secure electrical infrastructure," Yates told Noozhawk. "Since we don’t have a choice of electrical providers, we felt it was time to start a grass roots movement around an issue which affects us all.

"To put it in plain and simple terms: It’s a quality of life issue for everyone in Santa Barbara, one which is completely fixable but is not being addressed properly.

"First and foremost with all of us is public safety, which we see in the larger community, with traffic lights out and people stuck in elevators," he continued. "In our sphere, that manifests as concern for the safety of our guests and staff, who could possibly risk injury if the lights go out at a critical moment.

"We have taken steps to install extra safety lights around the restaurant as a result well beyond what is required to ensure that lighting will come on immediately if there is an outage (as well as other measures) because we no longer have confidence in the electrical infrastructure here."  

A power failure on the morning of Dec. 6, 2014, nearly forced Yates to cancel holiday parties that had been booked months in advance, and SCE representatives couldn't estimate how long electricity would be out.

The petition wasn't launched so businesses could battle with SCE, Yates said, but so they could help work more closely with the company to get something done.

Edison’s failure to upgrade the infrastructure does more than cut in on the income of local businesses, said Elaine Morello, co-owner of Olio e Limone Ristorante, Olio Crudo Bar, & Olio Pizzeria near the corner of State and Victoria streets.

“Our counter argument is that we cannot provide sub-standard food, service or facilities or we would not be in business,” Morello said.

Power outages between July 2011 and October 2014 cost her business more than $21,000 in revenue, not including product lost due to loss of refrigeration and the labor costs to deal with the fallout.

Several other business owners who signed the petition also noted money lost because their refrigerators quick working, with no indication of when power would be restored.

“Of particular concern is SCE’s pending business power rate increase,” Morello said. “It’s absolutely absurd that we, their paying clients, have to just accept this due to SCE being the only electricity provider in Santa Barbara. We cannot raise our menu prices whenever our costs get increased.”

Santa Barbara business owners, including Yates, received notice of pending rate increases, but no details were provided.

Representatives for Southern California Edison would not comment this week on planned rate increases, but the company wrote in a statement that it was investing billions to strengthen its territory-wide distribution grid, which serves nearly 14 million people.

"During these projects, some customers may experience maintenance outages while other work might require SCE personnel to access customers’ properties," representatives said. "SCE will communicate with affected customers well in advance so they can make appropriate arrangements, and usually provide customers with at least three days advance notice before a maintenance outage, and will update customers with changes whenever possible."

As a result of efforts in the Santa Barbara area, the company said reliability rose each year in the area from 2008 to 2013, with the average customer experiencing less than one outage in 2013 and being out of service less than 82 total minutes for the year.

"SCE understands that customers are impacted by outages and continues to work closely with city officials, as well as the business community, as we continue to make improvements to circuits serving the city’s business corridor," SCE representatives said. "Since 2012, SCE has replaced 57,682 feet of cable, 266 power poles and 159 transformers on impacted circuits in the Santa Barbara area.

"SCE will continue to seek input from our customers as we plan and complete infrastructure projects to improve reliability. SCE appreciates the efforts of the local business community and city leaders and staff to work with us on continuing to improve reliability and on helping us serve the needs of all of our customers in Santa Barbara." 

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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