A motion by Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl for a review of city departments to provide infrastructure compliance records passed the City Council unanimously Tuesday, Sept. 21.
The request comes less than two weeks after a Pacific, Gas and Electric natural gas explosion in Northern California. Rosendahl called for a number of city departments to supply the City Council with emergency plans and an update on the city’s infrastructure.
Rosendahl asked for the city records and departmental plans Sept. 14, two days after the fire in San Bruno that left at least four people dead.
The councilman’s motion referenced the San Bruno explosion as well as local events where lives were lost and extensive property damage occurred.
“The explosion and subsequent fire in San Bruno destroyed 37 homes and damaged more than 120 others,” Rosendahl’s motion stated. “This incident reminds us that the city of Los Angeles is not immune to such a tragedy.
“On June 16, 1976, an 8-inch gasoline pipeline was ruptured by excavation equipment on Venice Boulevard in Palms, killing six people, injuring 24 others and destroying six structures,” the motion continued. “There are hundreds of large pipelines carrying natural gas, petroleum and other flammable products that crisscross Los Angeles on a daily basis. Therefore, it is imperative that the council review the safety and compliance of pipeline franchises with applicable local, state and federal laws.”
The municipal departments that were called on to provide reports include the Los Angeles Fire Department, Emergency Management Department, Bureau of Engineering, Department of Building and Safety and the Harbor Department.
On March 28, 2008, city firefighter Brett Lovrien was killed after an underground electrical vault exploded in Westchester. Lovrien, a member of Engine 35 which serves the Los Angeles International Airport area, was investigating a call of smoke in a locked room that housed electric utility meters near 8425 Sepulveda Blvd.
Lovrien, who was struck by the utility closet’s door while attempting to cut its bolt, died of his injuries at Marina Del Rey Hospital. Engineer Anthony J. Guzman was also injured in the explosion.
“It’s imperative that the council look closely at not only the safety of our pipelines, but also at what plans are in place if something tragic should happen,” Rosendahl said before the vote. “If we don’t do our due diligence as elected officials and public servants, the results could be fatal.”
Rosendahl said Lovrien was on his mind when he introduced the request for compliance reviews and emergency plans.
“I’ll never forget being at his funeral,” the councilman recalled. “That was one of the things that was going through my mind when I brought this request forward. The loss of human life is just too high a price, and I’m glad that my colleagues were able to appreciate that.”
Emergency Management Department Assistant General Manager Anna Burton gave the council a report on her agency’s blueprint in case of an emergency. That includes a master plan that involves every city department to some degree, particularly the police and fire departments.
“The city has always had a number of plans, and that includes a master plan that summarizes how the city will respond in the event of a public safety emergency,” Burton told The Argonaut. “Every city department is involved at some level, whether it’s Building and Safety with inspections or Parks and Recreation providing shelters.”
In addition to his compliance request, Rosendahl asked for a report from Southern California Edison on the location of its underground pipelines. The private utility agreed to the request and will report to the council’s public safety committee in 45 days.
“This will give us a good idea of where their lines are, what condition they’re in and anything else that our people need to know about them,” the councilman explained.
There are also a variety of annexes in the city that are activated in the event of an earthquake or a gas explosion, said Burton, and her department works very closely with the Southern California Gas Company.
“We have a very close relationship with them and we both have participated in each other’s exercises this year,” she said.
Chuck Ray, a member of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was glad that the City Council is responding following the San Bruno explosion.
“There’s always a risk that something like that can happen here,” Ray pointed out. “Power and gas lines have exploded before and our infrastructure needs to be taken care of.”
Burton realizes that the San Bruno tragedy may cause many residents to consider the possibility of an explosion of those proportions happening in Los Angeles.
“We deal with emergencies every day in Los Angeles and we are always in contact with other cities, so we know what can happen,” she said. “When you hear about something like (the San Bruno explosion) it percolates in your mind that this could happen here too.”
Westchester homeowner Cyndi Hench is worried that infrastructure needs could suffer because of the city’s financial crisis.
“(City Hall) has been cutting back on so many things, and I hope that public safety, which includes protecting our infrastructure, doesn’t suffer,” Hench, president of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, said.
Ray said he believes that the engineers from the Department of Water and Power, which provides service to millions of customers throughout Los Angeles, do a much better job maintaining their lines than PG&E does.
“I think they’re terrific,” said Ray, who has monitored DWP for several years.
Three things that concerned Rosendahl were corrosion of the pipelines, movement of the earth in the event of an earthquake and where the pipelines are located. He believes that the respective departments provided the necessary information.
Ray applauded the council for taking action now rather than waiting for another tragedy to occur.
“I think that this is a very important issue, and I’m glad (Rosendahl) brought this to the council’s attention,” he said.
Rosendahl said there was no better time to review the city’s infrastructure situation and its emergency protocols.
“We need to know what’s going on so we can be prepared, as much as you can be for this type of crisis,” he concluded. “The question that kept going through my mind was ‘could this happen here?’