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City in power-surge dispute

Squirrel gets the blame as officials deny landlord's damage claim.

May 27, 2011|By Bill Kisliuk,
  • According to a resident, squirrels like to chew on the cables at this power pole in the backyard of a home on the 900 block of Lincoln St in Burbank on Wednesday, May 25, 2011. According to the resident squirrels have chewed through the electrical cables on the pole three times, causing major power disruptions to the home, (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
According to a resident, squirrels like to chew on the…

Squirrels with an appetite for aluminum are at the heart of a dispute between Burbank officials and the owner of a home where appliances have twice been fried because of power surges caused by chomped wires.

Last month, John Buxer won a small claims case against the city for power surge damage to electronics belonging to his tenant, and he has another claim pending from a subsequent incident.

Electricians say squirrels like to sharpen their teeth on the aluminum grounding wires that run between power poles and homes. They don’t get electrocuted on the grounding wire because it does not convey electricity to the home. But when the grounding wire is severed, it can cause a surge of energy in the wire that supplies power, hence the damage to appliances.

Buxer is not as mad at the alleged perpetrator as he is at the city. Burbank officials at first denied Buxer’s claim, as did his insurer.


So he wrote City Council members, sued the city in small claims court, filed a Public Records Act request for information about prior squirrel incidents and eventually won. But the city appealed.

In April, Buxer won the appeal before a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, prompting the city to write a check for $4,800.

“I figured they’d be really responsive, really open to if there was a real grievance from a constituent,” he said. “Their defense was: the squirrel was guilty.”

Though they declined to specifically address Buxer’s claims, Burbank officials said California law sets a high standard for liability against government agencies, and that the city does not guarantee uninterrupted power service. They also said they take quick action when animals or other problems cause outages.

Squirrels and Mylar balloons are among the most common causes of power outages, according to reports from the utilities in Burbank and Glendale.

In January, one squirrel knocked out power to 32 Burbank customers for more than two hours when it came into contact with a feeder line on Hollywood Way. In the last two fiscal years, according to a Burbank Water & Power report, animals caused three outages, while balloons and palm fronds caused 17.

In Glendale, squirrels are among the leading causes of outages. A Glendale Water & Power report blames squirrels for 41 power failures between 2006 and 2010, 12% of the 342 reported problems. Other top causes include equipment failure, balloons, palm fronds and birds.

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