Chino Hills Passive Resistance Protest Fails To Halt SCE Tower Project

Posted By Staff

by Mark Gutglueck, 8/11/11 – The San Bernardino County Sentinel

Efforts by Chino Hills residents to effectively block Southern California Edison construction workers’ access to the sites within that company’s utility corridor through the city where the erection of 200-foot-high transmission towers is ongoing was thwarted last week.

Southern California Edison is now proceeding with the placement of the 200-foot-high transmission towers as part of what is known as the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project,  which was initiated in  2008 as part of a state of California-supported effort to intensify wind generated energy development in the Tehachapi Pass, where electricity generating windmills were first put up in the early 1980s.

Edison’s undertaking of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project is an effort by that company to  meet state-mandated renewable energy goals and Edison has committed to generating at least 1,500 megawatts of power  from new projects to be built in the Tehachapi area by erecting more than 50 square miles of wind parks, a wind field that will be three times the size of any existing wind farm in the United States.

To convey that power to the urbanized population center of Los Angeles and Orange County, Southern California Edison is utilizing its existing power corridors and easements, including a long-existing but less intensely used corridor through upscale Chino Hills, where homes typically list in the $400,000 range even in the currently down real estate market. Chino Hills is the most densely populated area through which the transmission lines will span. Residents whose properties abut the corridor feel the power lines are a tangible – i.e., quantifiable in loss of dollars – impact on their property values.

Over the last three years, the city of Chino Hills has virtually exhausted its options in attempting to prevent the placement of the transmission line though the utility corridor, spending $2.4 million of taxpayer funds in that unsuccessful effort. With the assistance of one of its champions, former Chino Hills mayor and current assemblyman Kurt Hagman, the city sought legislation to ward off the power corridor.   Hagman introduced AB 2662, a bill that would have prohibited an electrical corporation from constructing substantially larger transmission towers in an easement intended for smaller transmission towers when the easement runs through an occupied residential area. That bill died at the committee stage.

In another effort to deliver them from the burden of the transmission lines traversing their community, city officials floated a proposal to reroute a span of the  power transmission line through Chino Hills State Park in order to avoid its passing through the city while the  environmental assessment for the transmission lines was being done. That concept was shot down. The city of then sued Edison last year, claiming the company had “overburdened” its power corridor easements. That effort failed, at least temporarily, when West Valley Superior Court Judge  Keith D. Davis ruled the California Public Utilities Commission has exclusive jurisdiction regarding the route used by Edison and that the matter fell entirely out of the Superior Court’s purview.  Davis threw the suit out. The city has appealed that ruling to the Fourth Appellate Court and a decision is pending.

With the city’s legal and procedural alternatives pretty well played out,  residents took it upon themselves on August 3 to confront Edison workers as they arrived that morning  at the former city yard on Pipeline Avenue south of Eucalyptus Avenue, near where they were to begin laying the foundation for one of the towers. The protestors at first succeeded in blocking the driveways and other portals of access and ingress the Edison subcontractors were using. When the Edison drivers sought to use alternate points of access to the site near an adjoining child care center, the group of protestors hastily reconvened in front of the vehicles, not allowing the drivers to pass.

In short order, however, sheriff’s deputies were summoned to the site  and the lawmen informed those engaged in the non-violent but logistical protest that they could not legally block driveways. Additionally, the band of protestors were creating an unsafe road condition on Pipeline Avenue as cars were stacking up behind the stopped trucks, deputies  said.

A makeshift truce was arrived at, whereby the protestors agreed to allow the Edison trucks to pull into the work site but were allowed to block the trucks and harangue the drivers for up to two minutes when they attempted to leave.

The intervention of the sheriff’s department  reduced the protest from a practical barricade to a symbolic but practically ineffective protest, as work on the Tehachapi Line was only briefly delayed.