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Sparks Fly at Pali Power Station Meeting

Community members, parents and kids voice their concerns over a proposal to build a power station next to Marquez Elementary School in Pacific Palisades.

Correction: A previous version of this story reported the Pacific Palisades Community Council opposed the location of the LADWP station next to Marquez Elementary School. According to PPCC President Janet Turner, the council has not taken a stance on this issue.

A community meeting to discuss a proposal to build a power substation in a vacant lot next to in Pacific Palisades became heated Monday night when residents questioned representatives from the Los Angeles Unified School District and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer organized the meeting at the school’s auditorium to talk strategy, to inform the community of the necessary steps to fight the proposed location and to allow opponents of the substation to voice their concerns. However, Zimmer noted that the primary goal of the meeting was to “make sure that this does not become the preferred site."

"We don't take risks when it comes to our kids," Zimmer said at the meeting.

According to the LADWP, a new substation is necessary to meet increasing electricity demands in the area. The department has proposed two sites: one next to Marquez Elementary School and the other behind.

Attendees of Monday’s forum included community members, teachers and students, as well as representatives from the LAUSD, Marquez Knolls Property Owners Association, Pacific Palisades Community Council, Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office and the LADWP.

The LAUSD, MKPOA and Rosendahl's office oppose the substation location at Marquez Elementary, citing fears of fire or explosions, health risks associated with electromagnetic frequency (EMF) and increased traffic.

John Sterritt, director of the Office of Environmental Health and Safety at the LAUSD, spoke in favor of putting the substation behind Fire Station 23. Many in the community are opposed to the location due to its proximity to the .

“What really makes a difference [in shaping the plan] is community and parental involvement,” Sterritt told the crowd. “I’ve got three daughters, two of them in elementary school, and when things come across my desk, I always say, ‘What if that was my girls’ school?’”

Bill Piazza, an environmental assessment coordinator with the LAUSD, spoke to the audience about the legal process involved with building public works projects, specifically the California Environmental Quality Act, or the CEQA.

According to Piazza, the CEQA is a set of guidelines that all state and local agencies are required to use to evaluate the potential impact of proposed projects.

Although this has been the second townhall meeting about the power station, the LADWP says it is in the very early stages and is still looking for a site for the station. So, the CEQA process has not started yet.

“I’m just trying to educate [the community] about the technical process,” Piazza told Pali Patch after the meeting. “It’s about empowerment, and that’s really what this was meant to do.”

After Piazza’s presentation, some at the meeting asked questions of the panel in advance of the public comment period.

Perry Miles, a retired physicist and neighbor of the school, said he was disappointed with the remarks he’d heard up to that point. “Do you have any objective measures of the safety involved?” Miles asked the panel.

<<Hear an excerpt of Miles' remarks in the video attached to this story.>>

Piazza answered, “When we build new schools, we have specific protocol to assess these types of impacts. The California Department of Education..."

“Protocols, protocols,” Miles interjected. “What about numbers? What about technical facts?”

Piazza responded that there are thresholds, and he would supply them.

Zimmer chimed in, “I can answer in a very non-technical way, and that it’s way too close.”

Marquez Elementary Principal Emily Williams started the public comment session by inviting Isabella Sehidoglu, a fifth-grade student at Marquez, to read a persuasive essay she wrote on the substation. Fifth-graders at the school are taught to compose persuasive essays, and Isabella won the award for top essay this year.

<<Hear Sehidoglu read her essay in the video attached to this story.>>

"Dear DWP, please don't put the power plant near our school, it's harmful, unhealthy and rude to even think that it's okay to put it near our school," Sehidoglu said as she read her essay aloud. "If you haven't noticed, the valley is flammable. Plus, we don't have enough firemen to put out the fire because of California's debt. Has Smokey the Bear heard about this? He would so be on our side."

While much of the comment period was filled with opposition to the station, Chris Hope took the opportunity to advocate for solar panels, hoping the community might band together to decrease demand on the existing grid.

Hope, a local sustainability and green consultant, told Pali Patch he spoke with LADWP Government and Neighborhood Relations Liaison Victoria Cross after the meeting. According to Hope, the two discussed the possibility of increasing solar power in the community to lessen the need for an additional substation. Although the solar solution would entail much more research, Hope seemed enthusiastic about the prospect.

Emotions ran high in the room when Cross stood up to address the audience.

<<Hear excerpts of Cross' remarks in the video attached to this story.>>

“First question is: Why did I come here tonight?” the LADWP liaison asked. “I don’t want to talk you into or out of this site. I just want to make a couple comments so you can speak amongst yourselves. And that is to clarify a couple statements," Cross said.

"One is that EMFs cause cancer and leukemia. There is a scientific association with possible leukemia causes. There is not a single bit of proof...," at which point Cross was cut off by several comments from the audience.

Someone stated loudly, “I have cancer."

Another voice said, “This is not a science [indistinguishible]; stay within the agenda."

“We're not quite as civil as we were at the other meeting,” Cross said, laughing a bit.

Williams interrupted the comments by saying the community agreed to have a civil discussion and that, as adults, "we are also role models, for ourselves, for our children.”

“It's easy to take the risk of EMFs and blow it up to something that is not correct, but the unfortunate thing is that we are fear-mongering when we do that," Cross said. "And that is not acceptable, because we're doing it in front of children. Those are the only things that I wanted to correct.”

The last person to address the crowd during the public comment period was former land-use lawyer Joyce Wong Kup, now a full-time mother and a leader in the Coalition of Palisadians to Keep Marquez Charter School Safe.

“The appropriate juncture for vocal opposition is now,” she said, noting that the further along the environmental review process gets, the more difficult it becomes to change or stop it.

  • For a television report about Monday's meeting from KCAL 9,.
  • For the story about Zimmer calling for the community meeting, click here.
  • For more reaction from a Feb. 29 town hall meeting,.
  • For more information about the Coalition of Palisadians to Keep Marquez Charter School Safe, click here.
  • For information about a petition written by a local attorney who lives on Marquez, click here.
  • For an announcement about the power station from a community member,.
Ana Nana Mouse April 19, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Let me get this...should a power station be located next to a school playground or next to a fire station?
Nancy April 21, 2012 at 03:07 PM
At the town hall meeting James Brennan from a community advocacy organization called Open Neighborhoods showed up with an interesting proposal--for Palisades to be running on 100% Clean Power by 2018. His organization has created an online petition for our community to sign. If you sign, you are not obligated in any way. You are just showing support for another alternative. With enough signatures we may have some clout with LADWP to push for more solar incentives and discounts to make solar affordable. The petition is available on this site http://openpalisades.ning.com/go100percent. He said it is possible that with an organized community move to solar this whole debate about the substation could be rendered irrelevant.

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