S. Cal. first rolling blackouts take cities by surprise

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Southern California's first rolling blackouts take cities by surprise

Posted at 10:27 p.m. PST Monday, March 19, 2001


Mercury News


LONG BEACH -- The warning came in at 12:01 p.m. But when the blackouts started 13 minutes later on Monday, city officials in this community of almost 500,000, were startled.

Stage 3 notifications had come and gone so many times this winter without as much as a flicker of the lights that ``we didn't really think about it,'' said city spokeswoman Kathy Parsons.

Residents of Southern California were completely unprepared for the inconveniences that come when the lights go off. From San Diego to Santa Barbara, traffic signals stopped flashing, microwave ovens quit working, ATM machines refused to take cards, and classrooms went dark. In Beverly Hills, shocked residents called police to report missing electricity.

It was the third time since the state's power crisis began that the California Independent System Operator had ordered rolling blackouts. On Jan. 17 and 18 more than a million customers from the Oregon border to Bakersfield lost power, but the lights stayed on in Southern California.

``It's clearly the worst day we've ever had in California,'' Patrick Dorinson, spokesman for the California ISO, which manages most of the state's power grid, told the Associated Press on Monday. ``All Californians are going to realize this is a statewide problem.''

Los Angeles, where the mercury hit an unseasonable 87 degrees, kept its air conditioners running because it gets its power from its own city-owned utility company, the Department of Water and Power.

Elsewhere, disabled traffic lights slowed cars at intersections and freeway on-ramps and caused at least one smash up at a Long Beach intersection. Hours after the debris had been cleaned up, July Sadler tried to use an automated teller machine at a gas station by the same intersection. The machine wouldn't work -- another inconvenience in a day full of them.

``I was in my house trying to warm up my niece's bottle in the microwave,'' said Sadler, 19. ``I went outside to the fuse box and tried to turn everything back on.'' Nothing worked, and she said she and her extended family an hour ``just sitting there.''

The outages began around noon and rotated throughout Southern California communities. State power regulators suspended the blackouts around 4 p.m. In Beverly Hills, most of the blackouts were concentrated in the immaculately groomed, tree-lined residential neighborhoods. Pricey boutiques along Rodeo Drive, the city's chic shopping area, were unaffected by the outages.

Robin Chancellor, city spokeswoman, said the outages didn't create any major problems, but the blackouts did come as a surprise. ``We'd been lulled into not really thinking about the power crisis,'' she said.

The designers, hairstylists and makeup artists who had set up at the city's Raffles L'Ermitage hotel in Beverly Hills in preparation for the Oscars on Sunday were anxious. ``We've got hundreds of thousands of dollars wrapped up in this,'' Ted Kruckel, a publicist for jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels and Helena Rubinstein's Heather Canavan, told the Associated Press. ``It's something I don't understand. Why Oscar week?''

The outages also hit towns in the northern portion of San Diego County, well as cities close to the Mexican border. Laura Farmer, spokeswoman for the San Diego Gas and Electric Company, said that about 80,000 residential and business customers -- about 3 percent of the utility's total -- were without power. The outages lasted from an hour to an hour-and-a-half. Farmer said a portion of virtually every city in the county was affected.

Outages later this year could pose a problem for 18 Long Beach elementary schools on year-round tracks, said school district spokesman Richard Van Der Laan. But Monday's outages posed few problems. Only three public schools in the city, all in the same area, went dark for an hour at lunchtime, he said.

``If the lights had gone out earlier in the day the students would have had frozen chicken patties'' for lunch, Van Der Laan said.

Other Long Beach residents expressed concern about their level of preparedness whenever blackouts happen again. ``I think many people have assumed we were going to be immune to them,'' said Parsons, the city's spokeswoman.

Mercury News wire services contributed to this report.

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), March 20, 2001


My heart bleeds for them. Boy, there are a whole bunch of people in that area that are in for one hell of a reality check. Bet that guy doesn't own a candle, let alone have any food for his family. He probably feels he is being picked on! Taz

-- Taz (jhara2197@aol.com), March 20, 2001.

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