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Malibu Planning Commission: Next portion of advanced meter project approved

Lauren Coughlin, Editor
9:47 am PDT September 8, 2017

The Malibu Planning Commission approved applications from Southern California Gas to install four 28-foot tall wood poles with advanced meter equipment and antennas in Malibu. 

The poles, which were approved at the commission’s Tuesday, Sept. 5 regular meeting, will be located at 4568.5 Encinal Canyon Road, 4750.5 Encinal Canyon Road, 6468.5 Trancas Canyon Road and 6015.5 Trancas Canyon Road.

The pair of poles on Encinal Canyon Road were approved 4-1, with Chairman Mikke Pierson voting “no,” and the Trancas poles were approved 3-2, with Commissioner Jeffrey Jennings as well as Pierson voting against the item. 

The motions also included a stipulation that no ground-mounted equipment shall be added unless undergrounded, and that all future equipment must “mimic the appearance and dimensions of other existing above-ground utility poles in the immediate vicinity.”

Per a motion from Commissioner John Mazza, the pole at 6015.5 Trancas Canyon was further required to be located as far as feasible from the edge of the road paving within the public right-of-way. The currently proposed location is two feet from the edge of the road, which Mazza flagged as a safety concern. 

“This is rehab central right there, and it’s a pretty steep hill,” Mazza said.

Mike Harriel, public affairs manager for the Southern California Gas Company, explained during the public hearing that the project is mandated by the California Public Utilities Connection.

“This advanced meter project allows SoCalGas customers the ability to manage their energy bills through online tools with real time data availability,” an agenda supplement states. “The advanced meters automatically read and securely send a detailed hourly outline of the customer’s natural gas usage information for next day access to view daily, monthly, or annual data. According to SoCalGas, the customer can better monitor energy consumption and take steps to save energy and potentially save money.”

With that in mind, Commissioner Steve Uhring asked the obvious question: “When this project is done, what’s it going to do to my utility bill?” 

Harriel was not able to identify a precise amount of savings but said that customers would see savings, as the company would no longer need to have an employee drive out to read meters.

The poles also reportedly deliver another added benefit.

“The installation of the advanced meters increases the safety of natural gas usage within homes, businesses, and other facilities by providing quicker detection of high natural gas usage and in turn, an earlier investigation of possible problems, such as leaks, by SoCalGas,” an agenda supplement states.

Several commissioners expressed concerns that storypoles were not installed on the sites.

“There’s nothing that’s more valuable in Malibu than views and even though a pole is not like a house, as we remember from the [Malibu High] football light field episode, it’s still significant,” Jennings said. “So why haven’t we done what we would ordinarily do with a site plan review?”

Planning Director Bonnie Blue explained that staff relied on submitted visual representations for this type of project. Those who live within a 500-foot radius of the pole also received notice of the project and hearing, and SoCalGas stated that it worked directly with several neighbors to mitigate concerns on the poles. 

No residents spoke against the pole installations at the hearings. The City did receive two correspondences (one for each site), with one coming in the day of the meeting, according to staff.

Southern California Gas aims to install 14 additional poles throughout Malibu by the end of the year to ensure proper coverage.