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Downtown Businesses Continue to Grapple with Fallout from Power Outage

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

August 2 -- Although the lights came on this weekend at Downtown businesses shuttered after a week without power, repairs could continue to hamper operations for another three weeks, Bayside officials said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, merchants are just beginning to tabulate the hit to their bottom lines, while motorists struggle to navigate streets where lanes are closed and traffic lights are flashing red.

At least tens of thousands of dollars in sales were likely lost by the 50 businesses in and around the Third Street Promenade after two transformers exploded under Santa Monica Boulevard July 22, Downtown officials said. That figure is expected to climb as repairs continue to hinder business at some stores and restaurants, they added.

“It’s hard to assess how much the cost is right now because people are still being affected,” said Kathleen Rawson, executive director for the Bayside District Corporation, which runs the Downtown. “The bottom line is it is devastating.”

While temporary generators have restored power to the businesses during the busy summer shopping season, power surges are still causing problems, even damaging equipment at some coffee shops and restaurants, Rawson said.

Through August 20, repair crews will continue to block car and truck access to alleys, where inventory is often loaded and unloaded at the rear of stores, she said.

Even Pedestrian access will be blocked on Second Court alley between Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway until August 6.

While the repairs may continue to affect business operations, Southern California Edison Region Manager Marc Olson said they are needed.

“This is an infrastructure overhaul and not a band-aid in this section (of Downtown Santa Monica) to cover any future power needs,” he said. “We’re in a very difficult process of making repairs, especially because of other utilities in the area.”

Olson and Rawson will meet August 8 to discuss short and long-term repairs. That date had already been set aside before the explosions to discuss the power infrastructure in the Downtown, both said.

It is unlikely there will be any talk of compensating businesses, said Rawson. She noted that while Edison has refunded customers in the past, the power giant could claim that it shares no responsibility because the power surge that blew the transformers was triggered by record temperatures.

“It looks like they’re leaning in the ‘Act of God’ direction,” she said, referring to a term in the insurance industry to describe when a company is not at fault because of an unforeseeable act of nature.

Olson said he could not comment on any compensation claims.

“Anything we do with regards to compensation on a claim by claim basis is handled at our claims office,” he said. “It depends on the circumstances for each claimant.”

Meanwhile, parking and traffic remain a mess around the Downtown, and the problem is exacerbated by events such as the Wednesday and Saturday farmers’ markets – which shuts down Arizona Avenue – and the Twilight Dance Series Thursdays at the Santa Monica Pier, Rawson said.

Traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway between Second and Fourth streets has been tied up, as repairs restrict the use of some lanes, City officials said. Broadway was expected to be reopened Wednesday.

Parking between the 200 and 300 block of Santa Monica Boulevard will be restricted for several weeks, while traffic is funneled into one lane in each direction between Second and Fourth streets.

Traffic signals on Santa Monica Boulevard were flashing red as the result of the ongoing repairs, but were fixed by Tuesday evening. Motorists are advised to use caution in the area and are reminded that a flashing red signal requires a complete stop before proceeding through an intersection.

For more information, call Edison at (800) 655-4555, (800) 611-1911 or (310) 315-3201.

For information on how businesses or residents may file a claim with Edison, call the Edison Claims Department at 1-800-251-3311.

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