A Los Angeles city councilman Wednesday introduced a resolution to support state legislation aimed at reducing the number of human casualties, power outages and service interruptions caused by damaging underground utilities and infrastructure.
The Wade Kilpatrick Gas Safety Act of 2021, introduced by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, would create new civil penalties for excavators who knowingly or willfully damage gas infrastructure and fail to follow proper safety protocols, according to the resolution.
The bill was named for a Southern California Gas Co. employee who was killed after a contractor failed to call 811, a free service that connects excavators with the Underground Service Alert, before digging at a Murrieta residential site. The dig damaged a gas pipeline, causing an explosion that killed Kilpatrick, destroyed a home and injured 15 people.
“It’s a tragedy that a SoCalGas worker was killed because a contractor either wasn’t aware or failed to make a simple telephone call,” Councilman Gil Cedillo said. “It’s equally frustrating that these incidents occur almost daily in the Los Angeles area. There’s a 99% chance that no damage will occur to a buried pipeline or other utility if this call is made.”
California Government Code 4216 requires homeowners and professional excavators to call 811 before any excavation with power tools or when a permit is required. But of the 9,600 incidents in 2019 where facilities were damaged during excavations, 46% of the excavators did not notify 811 before digging.
More than 1,800 of the incidents occurred in Los Angeles County, which is twice more than any other California county, according to the proposed resolution.
“Buried gas, electric and water lines can present a hidden danger to people digging unless they’re properly marked. These lines are often located in streets making them easy to strike and cause damage during excavations,” said Jimmie Cho, chief operating officer at SoCalGas. “With a simple call to 811 before excavation work begins, there’s a 99% chance that no damage will occur to a buried pipeline or other utility.”
The Senate bill would create civil penalties up to $200,000 and possible suspension or revocation of a contractor’s license if the state’s requirements are not met before excavation.
“Dig-ins represent a common and preventable problem with significant safety and environmental impacts. My legislation, SB 297, is a common-sense solution that prioritizes safety, reliability and sustainability while prescribing new penalties to discourage contractors and others from damaging gas and other infrastructure,” Durazo said. “Thanks to L.A. Council members Gil Cedillo and Monica Rodriguez for bringing further attention to this problem and for introducing a motion in support of SB 297.”
Rodriguez seconded the resolution.
“Fortunately, most `dig-in’ incidents don’t result in any injuries or property damage,” she said. “But they can result in property damage, injury or death, and they also make it more difficult for the city and state to reach our greenhouse gas reduction goals.”
The resolution will be reviewed by the City Council’s Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee before being brought to the full City Council.
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