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In West Hollywood, It's Christmas Amid Crisis

Lights: A road repair project prevents the conservation-conscious city from unplugging some holiday displays, officials say.


If there's a bright side to the electricity crisis, it's on the south side of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, where holiday lights are still merrily blazing on municipal utility poles, nearly a month after Christmas.

After appealing to residents and merchants to conserve power, red-faced city officials say they are unable to turn off the Christmas decorations because of a street repair project along the boulevard.

Workers can't get a hydraulic cherry-picker lift close enough to the poles to unplug the lighted decorations because the boulevard is so torn up, officials say.

Sixteen displays just west of La Cienega and San Vicente boulevards remained connected Tuesday. A private lighting contractor was able to remove 174 other holiday displays earlier this month.

The decorations are plugged into outlets on top of boulevard lamp fixtures and glow during the same nighttime hours as the street lights. Although the decorations use relatively little power, officials acknowledge that some passersby view the holiday lights as a shining example of hypocrisy.

"We have considered shutting down those street lights completely," by turning off their boulevard circuit, said City Councilman Steve Martin. But the city is "concerned for public safety, especially in the midst of the heaviest [pavement] construction area." He said the lighting contractor is in discussion with the paving contractor about getting safe access to the poles.

Merchants and shoppers who have suffered through traffic congestion and confusion for more than a year during the $35-million street repair project were taking the leftover-lights crisis in stride on Tuesday.

"Even I managed to take my Christmas decorations down," laughed Andrea Richards, a busy writer for a girls' book publishing company whose offices are beneath one of the poles.

Down the street, clothing designer Andrew Makay joked about sewing by candlelight, while model Nikko Padron groused good-naturedly about energy conservation in the shop. "They turned off the dressing room lights on me," Padron said.

West Hollywood's power is provided by Southern California Edison Co. For weeks, that firm has braced for possible rolling blackouts because of the energy crisis.

Earlier this month, West Hollywood officials took what could be the first step toward severing ties with Edison. City leaders agreed to investigate the possibility of joining Los Angeles' Department of Water and Power or forming their own power agency--perhaps in conjunction with nearby Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Culver City, which are also Edison customers.

In the meantime, West Hollywood has called upon residents to turn off lights, lower thermostats and take shorter showers to conserve energy. Officials said they have taken what they describe as "drastic steps to cut back" on power use at City Hall by shutting down computers, elevators and lights.

A team of city workers and volunteers has been set up to help residents in case of a widespread power outage. "This is a critical time for all of us," said City Manager Paul Arevalo.

An Edison spokesman said the firm was unaware of the Christmas lights but appreciated the city's attempt to unplug them. Such conservation efforts have helped avoid local blackouts so far, he said.

For now, however, a solution to the Christmas lights-cherry-picker problem was offered Tuesday by Natalie Blacker, a college student who works in a boulevard office.

"Hasn't anybody heard of a ladder?" Blacker asked. Lightheartedly, of course.

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