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NextG agrees to pay $14.5 million for role in 2007 Malibu fire

Under a proposed settlement, NextG would pay $8.5 million into California's general fund and another $6 million to have telephone poles inspected. The 2007 fire was sparked by toppled poles.

February 22, 2013|By Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times
  • A water-dropping helicopter is dwarfed by the smoke billowing from the 2007 Malibu Canyon fire. The blaze burned thousands of acres and destroyed or damaged nearly three dozen houses and other buildings.
A water-dropping helicopter is dwarfed by the smoke billowing from the… (Don Kelsen / Los Angeles…)

A phone company whose equipment on a top-heavy pole was partly to blame for the 2007 Malibu Canyon fire has agreed to pay $14.5 million under a proposed settlement, according to legal documents.

NextG Networks of California Inc., now owned by Crown Castle NG West Inc., will pay $8.5 million into California's general fund and $6 million to hire independent engineers to inspect each of the company's attachments on tens of thousands of poles in California. Any pole found to be overloaded or decayed would be replaced, with co-owners sharing the cost.

On Oct. 21, 2007, three utility poles on Malibu Canyon Road snapped and fell to the ground, igniting brush. Propelled by strong Santa Ana winds, the resulting blaze burned thousands of acres and destroyed or damaged nearly three dozen houses and other buildings.

The poles that toppled were jointly owned by Southern California Edison Co., AT&T Mobility, Sprint Telephony, Verizon Wireless and NextG.

In January 2009, the California Public Utilities Commission opened a case to determine whether the five companies had violated the utilities code or other rules when they installed equipment on the poles. In the settlement agreement signed Thursday, NextG acknowledged that it failed to talk to other telecom companies or Edison before adding cables to one of the poles that broke.

In September, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon agreed to pay $4 million each to resolve issues relating to the fire.

Hans Laetz, a part-time journalist and Malibu resident who has campaigned for power pole safety, opposed the September agreement, saying it did not provide adequate protection for Malibu against future fires that might be caused by overloaded poles.

He praised the NextG settlement agreement for stipulating that overloaded or damaged poles be inspected and replaced as necessary. The settlement is subject to a vote by the full commission.

The settlement means that inspectors will examine NextG's poles, "starting in Malibu and then working out through all of western Los Angeles County," Laetz said. "We know there are many that are overloaded."

Hearings into Edison's involvement in the blaze were to begin Monday but now must wait until the commission has acted on NextG's settlement.

The NextG settlement "is really precedent setting," said Malibu Councilwoman Laura Z. Rosenthal. "We all know all the overloading that has been going on. Malibu is vulnerable."

martha.groves@latimes.com

Times staff writer Matt Stevens contributed to this report.

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