September 20, 2021

TCB Roadside Committee Seeks Agreement with SCE to Eliminate Use of Herbicides


The Topanga Canyon Boulevard Roadside Committee moved to seek an agreement with Southern California Edison (SCE) to eliminate the use of herbicides to clear the ground around utility poles in Topanga.

Representatives of Southern California Edison came to the table at the November 7 meeting at Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s field office in Calabasas to discuss their methods of keeping their power poles clear of brush and tree branches.

Ben Wong, Public Information Officer (PIO) for Southern California Edison, said the question of non-herbicide methods is of concern because they are mandated to maintain year-round clearance of the California Public Utilities poles, especially those with transformer boxes.

“Electricity is dangerous and out of safety concern, we regularly clear poles,” he said. “We use contractors where feasible because we have a requirement to mitigate fire danger in the most cost effective way possible.”

Wong said they are required to clear 10 feet of ground around the outer circumference of the non-exempt poles (those that hold transformers and databoxes), eight feet above the ground and eight feet above that for tree branches.

Their normal schedule of clearance in the Canyon runs from July to October.

Vince Oatis, Vegetation Manager for SCE, said the use of herbicides at the ground level allows them to treat less frequently.

He said the poles are identified with yellow, green or red tags to indicate which ones must receive regular or extra clearance. They work with the Los Angeles County Fire Department to clear those non-exempt poles that might become a fire hazard.

“Fire is one of our biggest concerns, Oatis said. “If there is any regrowth, we try to inspect in high wind-prone areas.”

Susan Nissman, Senior Deputy to L.A. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, asked if Caltrans would work with SCE to instigate a sustainable plan to clear areas for compliance including non-exempt poles without the use of herbicides.

At the beginning of the meeting, the committee discussed the best method of saving California buckeye growing along SR 27 that was sprayed while removing arundo and fennel.

The Roadside Committee is committed to maintaining the integrity of the ecological diversity that thrives along the roadside from wet habitat, wildlife trails, native plants and a spring that runs alongside the boulevard and supports stream orchids.

Wong said they might be able to work out a plan with the committee to eliminate herbicides, yet said that they are responsible for 3,500 poles in the Santa Monica Mountains, 128 non-exempt poles from the 101 to the Pacific Coast Highway and 80 non-exempt poles in Topanga alone; he suggested individuals could use Google Earth to identify those poles with high-level electrical transformer boxes.

Wong added that SCE is responsible for 1.5 million trees within their 50,000- square-mile service area and the budget was $52 million for their line clearance and pole maintenance program.

As a result, he expressed some skepticism about creating a “one off” non-herbicide solution for Topanga, yet acknowledged the sensitive nature of the area.

Fiona Nagle from Caltrans suggested that perhaps the Canyon could adopt a “joint pole” program, where civilian volunteers might clear the poles to prevent the use of herbicides by SCE.

“Can SCE commit to clearing without herbicides?” she asked.

Wong appeared amenable to the idea yet reiterated his original position.

“We maintain proper clearance of poles in compliance with the requirements; if someone clears without herbicides, that’s cool, but we are not committed to not using herbicides,” Wong said. “We are going to clear and continue to allow our crews to use herbicides.”

Wong did allow that if volunteers successfully cleared the poles according to legal maintenance requirements as required by the utility company, SCE could possibly hold off on the use of herbicides at those locations.

“That is the solution,” he said.


The ad hoc Topanga Canyon Boulevard Roadside Committee consists of community leaders from local organizations, including the Topanga Creek Watershed Committee (TCWC), the Topanga Association for a Scenic Community (TASC), Topanga Chamber of Commerce (TCOC), Topanga Canyon Town Council (TCTC) and the Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP) along with the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM), the Los Angeles County Fire Department/Fire Prevention Division and the State Department of Transportation (Caltrans) that owns and operates State Route 27.