Southern California Edison installed brand new plastic telephone poles Thursday in place of some old wooden ones in downtown Santa Barbara.
The replacements in part reduce wildfire risk, and the plastic allows for increased durability and reliability.
John McKinney, a Santa Barbara resident known as the Trailmaster who’s written 30 hiking-themed books, had a plastic telephone pole installed right outside his home in the 600 block of East Victoria Street.
As co-founder of the Bungalow Haven Neighborhood Association, he challenged the idea of replacing wooden poles with large, plastic ones.
“We’re in a historic district,” Mr. McKinney told the News-Press. “These poles are incredibly ugly and big and out of character with the neighborhood.”
He brought the issue to the city and reached out to SoCal Edison, citing the lack of notification from the company to the neighborhood, but nevertheless, the poles were planted in the ground.
“We’ve worked very, very hard to establish a historic district and maintain these lovely little craftsman homes in the style that they were made which was between 1910 and 1920,” he continued. “So we think it’s a travesty that the utility, in the name of wildfire safety, is allowed to put in enormous plastic poles that are completely out of keeping with the neighborhood. We think that the money SoCal Edison allegedly is using for wildfire prevention could go to wildfire prone areas and not be sunk into plastic poles in downtown Santa Barbara where there is no fire risk practically at all.”
However, David Song, a SoCal Edison spokesman, confirmed that the installations were and will continue to be necessary.
First off, he told the News-Press that the company does not typically notify residents about projects unless there is a service impact. In this case, SoCal Edison did inform the neighborhood that staff would be “performing critical work on the electrical system in your area that will cause the power to be out temporarily” on Oct. 5.
Secondly, while wildfire risk was part of the motivation to replace the poles, the previous poles in the area were deteriorating, which posed a hazard to the surrounding area. The poles in downtown Santa Barbara had extensive woodpecker damage.
“When you have deteriorated poles and you have some type of failure, that could be a huge safety concern and would knock out power for a larger number of people,” Mr. Song said. “To prevent those kinds of things from happening, this is the best course of action.
“Some people might say that it’s not as aesthetically pleasing, some people like composite more than wood. It depends on the area and varies across service areas.”
He said that when SoCal Edison has the opportunity to replace a composite (wooden) pole with a plastic one, they’ll do it every time.
“We’re very mindful about balancing the safety implications for that deteriorated pole and replacing it with the composite and balancing that with the historical and cultural context preserved by a lot of our neighbors,” Mr. Song said. “Just having poles and wires up is something that people understand is one of the necessities of living a modern life and they live with it.
“It’s safety, it’s reliability. You just don’t want any kind of equipment failure or pole failure in these areas, especially because these are denser and older areas,” he concluded. “These are preventative measures instead of waiting for something tragic to happen.”