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Mayor Bass Demands LADWP Act Faster To Fix High-Risk Utility Poles After $38M Settlement

A Los Angeles Department of Water and Power worker wearing a mask made in the utility's upholstery shop.
A Los Angeles Department of Water and Power worker wearing a mask made in the utility's upholstery shop.
(Courtesy LADWP)
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In a letter sent this week to the commissioners and leaders of the L.A. Dept. of Water and Power, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass asked for quick repairs on 753 utility poles posing a risk to the public — known as priority one tickets.

Her stepped up demands came the same week LADWP agreed to pay a $38-million dollar lawsuit settlement to the family of Ferdinand Tejada, 53, and his daughter Janina Tejada, 20. They died in January 2021 after being electrocuted when a downed power line fell in the backyard in their Panorama City home.

Bass called the equipment failure that led to their deaths "a tragedy for the Tejada family. This was not a mere failure of a power pole, but a failure of management and leadership."

Bass' letter, dated Thursday, also comes as public utility companies commissioners pressed leadership on the backlog of 1,600 high-risk utility poles dating back to 2021.

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What Bass wants expedited

Her letter calls for these immediate actions:

  • Commit to complete repairs to the utility poles in need of immediate repairs (Priority One) by May 16.
  • Bring additional resources to complete the Priority One work by May 16 including necessary overtime and use of contractors.
  • Notify residents in the locations of Priority One poles in need of repairs by more than one method and then notify residents when repairs are completed.
  • Commit to and make public a schedule to complete the Priority Two pole repairs per the California Public Utilities Commission regulations and orders.
  • Institute regular reporting of pole inspections and repairs.
  • Report weekly to the Mayor’s Office on progress.

She also asked for increased accountability on "safety culture and risk management practices" and called for the creation of an inspector general for the department.

Why repairs are taking so long

According to LADWP standards dating back to 2013, priority one tickets should be fixed within 24 hours. The department's senior assistant general manager Brian Wilbur told the board that contractors were brought on board to replace old deteriorating poles.

"Our priority was replacing poles," he said. "Our contractors were replacing poles. The priority one fix-it tickets are not all pole replacements."

Cynthia McClain-Hil, president of the Board of Water and Power Commissioners, asked Wilbur if level-one fix-it tickets — that didn't require pole replacement — were not prioritized, Wilbur responded, "that is correct."

What's next

DWP management says crews will work around the clock to reduce the backlog to zero in the next three weeks. They've sent out between 3,500 to 4,000 notices to people with a pole in their yard or nearby.

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Still, the public utility company has more than 46,000 non-emergency tickets, also known as "priority two" tickets. 13,000 have been backlogged for over a year.

Commissioner Nicole Neeman Brady has called for a cultural shift within the department. She told the department's management "to create a culture where employees are not scared to tell you when things are broken or behind, and that they feel they can bring forward requests for resources."

Bass is urging Board of Water and Power Commissioners and the Department to institute pole inspection reports and repairs regularly and report weekly progress to the mayor's office.

What you should do if you encounter downed lines

Safety tips
  • Advice from Southern California Edison

    • Never touch a fallen power line. Call the power company to report fallen power lines.
    • Do not drive through standing water if downed powerlines are in the water.
    • If you’re in a vehicle with a fallen power line on it, stay in the vehicle and remain calm until help arrives. It is OK to use your cellphone to call 911. If you must leave the vehicle, remember to exit away from downed power lines and exit by jumping from the vehicle and landing with both feet together. You must not touch the vehicle and the ground at the same time. Then proceed away from the vehicle by shuffling and not picking up your feet until you are several yards away. 
    • Water and electricity don’t mix. Water is an excellent conductor of electricity. Do not step in or enter any water that a downed power line may be touching.
  • Advice from the CDC if you believe someone has been electrocuted

    1. Look first. Don't touch. The person may still be in contact with the electrical source. Touching the person may pass the current through you.
    2. Call or have someone else call 911 or emergency medical help.
    3. Turn off the source of electricity if possible. If not, move the source away from you and the affected person using a nonconducting object made of cardboard, plastic or wood.
    4. Once the person is free of the source of electricity, check the person's breathing and pulse. If either has stopped or seems dangerously slow or shallow, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately.
    5. If the person is faint or pale or shows other signs of shock, lay him or her down with the head slightly lower than the trunk of the body and the legs elevated.
    6. Don't touch burns, break blisters, or remove burned clothing. Electrical shock may cause burns inside the body, so be sure the person is taken to a doctor.

Read Bass' full letter

What questions do you have about Southern California?

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