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In Woodland Hills, It's Just Too Darn Hot

The Valley suburb breaks another record, with 20 days in a row of 100-plus temperatures.

July 26, 2006|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

It's hot everywhere. But then there is Woodland Hills.

On Tuesday, the San Fernando Valley suburb marked its 20th straight day with 100-plus temperatures, breaking yet another record.

Three days before, it had the distinction of having the hottest temperature reading ever recorded in Los Angeles County: 119 degrees.

Blame the mountains that ring Woodland Hills' south and west sides for the toaster-oven effect. They keep cool ocean air out and trap the hot urban air in to make the bedroom community of 10,129 homes routinely 15 degrees hotter than downtown Los Angeles.

So residents of Woodland Hills are a tough breed when it comes to extreme weather -- as long as the AC is humming.

"I've always said that they should blow some holes in the mountains and let the breeze come in," said Sande Danielson, looking a little wilted as she sat under a water mister outside a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf shop on Ventura Boulevard.

She has lived in Woodland Hills for 25 years, so she knows that air conditioning is second in importance only to a car when you're at the extreme western edge of Los Angeles.

"Turn down the air conditioner like they say to do? That's insane in this weather," Danielson said, sipping from a cup of ice water while she waited, as she put it, "for my coffee to cool down a little."

With ridge tops as high as 2,000 feet, the Santa Monica Mountains shield Woodland Hills -- which sits at about a 900-foot elevation -- from the ocean.

From the top of one of its hilltops, Joan Sims stood in the scorching sun and surveyed an unobstructed view. "We're one of the few people in Los Angeles who can say we can see the sun rise and see it set," she said.

In other words, the six homes on her San Sebastian Drive were going to be baked precisely 14 hours on Tuesday: from 6 a.m. through 8 p.m. For most residents, it was going to seem even longer because the street's power was off for the third straight day.

Sims' house is the exception. When she and her husband built it with their own hands in 1959 to become the street's first residents, they hooked it up to power lines on a street beneath their hill. Newcomers are served by a newer line on the street -- which was shut down by an apparent transformer malfunction.

Down the street, neighbor Gayle Dufour was already plenty steamed.

"I live in an all-electric home," said Dufour, who has lived in Woodland Hills since 1981. "The only way we can keep cool is take a cold shower. The water's still on, at least."

Across the street, three-year resident Lynda McMurray was watering her plants because her electric timer-controlled sprinkler system wasn't working.

"We have been staying at a friend's house in Simi Valley, but they lost their power last night too. So we're going to a hotel tonight and putting the dog in a kennel," she said. "We didn't realize this was the hottest spot in the Valley or else we wouldn't have moved here."

The community's 24,159 residents know it now -- even if they didn't before three weeks ago.

"Even as a kid growing up in Burbank I'd hear them say 'Woodland Hills, 104 degrees.' I didn't know where Woodland Hills was, but I knew it was always hot," said Marcy Green, who moved 21 years ago to Miranda Street, above Pierce College. "All you can do is stay in the house with the air conditioner on or go into the pool."

It was at Pierce's officially sanctioned weather station that the 119-degree record was set about 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

The automated, 57-year-old station is surrounded on three sides by a vacant field and a cactus patch. Experts say that it's considered among the most accurate of local weather stations because it is well-maintained and is not affected by vegetation or pavement that can skew temperature readings.

Pierce College geography and meteorology professor William Russell, a 23-year Woodland Hills resident, runs the station. He said the 119 reading surprised even him.

"I knew it was going to be warm Saturday. But not that warm," said Russell, whose gauge topped out Tuesday at 105.3 degrees.

In a campus parking lot, Shan Amos, a registered nurse from Granada Hills, was cooling off Sunday in her idling, air-conditioned Hummer H3 while waiting for her nephew to finish a youth basketball league game.

"The thermometer says it's 121 degrees outside. Five minutes ago it said it was 114. Before that it was 107. I think the engine is heating things up," she said through her partially lowered window.

Those waiting for an air-conditioned MTA bus to take them out of Woodland Hills crowded beneath the shade of the Franklin's Hardware storefront overhang Monday near the intersection of Ventura and Topanga Canyon boulevards. A shop thermometer read 109 degrees.

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