Flames leap over a canyon in Malibu in 2007. (Brian Vander Brug, Los Angeles…)
Southern California Edison Co. agreed Monday to pay $37 million to resolve concerns about three overloaded utility poles that sparked the 2007 Malibu Canyon fire, a settlement that would bring the total for the destructive fire to more than $60 million.
Under the agreement, the utility giant would admit that it violated the law by not taking prompt action to prevent a telecommunications company from attaching fiber-optic cable to jointly owned poles in Malibu Canyon. Edison also would acknowledge that a letter it sent to the Public Utilities Commission after the fire did not identify pole overloading and termite damage as possible contributing factors in the pole failures.
The proposed settlement with the California Public Utilities Commission staff represents the third, final and largest agreement regarding the fire. All told, the settlements would bring in $63.5 million, of which $35.4 million would go to the state's general fund and $28.1 million would be spent on pole inspections and remediations in Malibu Canyon and environs. The Edison deal is still subject to approval by the full utilities panel.
When Santa Ana winds swept through the canyon Oct. 21, 2007, three utility poles next to Malibu Canyon Road toppled and ignited the fire. The blaze burned 3,836 acres and destroyed or damaged dozens of structures and vehicles. The poles were jointly owned by Edison, AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless and NextG Networks of California.
In September, the panel approved its first settlement, for $12 million, with AT&T, Verizon and Sprint.
The second settlement, for $14.5 million with NextG Networks, was revealed in February and awaits the commission's approval.
Edison said in a statement that its payments would come from shareholder funds rather than ratepayers, with $20 million going to the general fund and $17 million earmarked to improve power systems in the area. The company said it had set aside a reserve so that the agreement would not affect 2013 earnings.
"As part of the settlement, SCE acknowledges its responsibility in a major incident," Jack Hagan, director of the utility panel's safety and enforcement division, said in a statement.
Edison said it would work with telecom companies "to better coordinate and improve pole loading practices."
Hans Laetz, a Malibu resident who has advocated power pole safety, said aspects of the settlement troubled him.
"I am concerned that Edison is rebuilding its system at the same time that the PUC is coming up with new, beefed-up rules for power poles in high-fire risk areas," he said. "I applaud the PUC for going after Edison very aggressively, but once again I'm not sure the settlement is in the best interests of the people who live in fire-prone areas in Southern California."