New council should dig true priorities from underground

The outgoing Costa Mesa City Council, in an apparent attempt to make

our city more closely resemble our neighbors in Irvine and Newport

Beach, has proposed a grand plan to place all the utility wires

presently providing power, cable and telephone service to most of the

city underground.

In a perfect world, which in some people's view Irvine and Newport

Beach represent, that's an admirable goal -- if we can afford it.

I watched the council meeting in which representatives of Southern

California Edison provided information to the council on this

project. I heard the numbers thrown around. The estimate, I recall,

for completion of this task citywide was in excess of $800 million.

That's right, nearly a billion dollars to hide the wires. However,

that number only covers the portion of work that places the wires

underground in the street adjacent your home. From that point, it's

up to each of us to pay the freight to bring the utilities to our

residences. Those costs vary depending on individual circumstances,

but can reasonably be expected to run several thousand dollars.

Add that to the cost of the bond the city will be proposing to

accomplish the other work and it looks like one heck of a financial

burden for every property owner affected, particularly for those

low-income residents and seniors who may be squeaking by on a fixed

income.

When the Edison representatives were asked which system is easier

to maintain, they didn't flinch -- they said our present system, with

wires on poles, is much easier to maintain and repair. That didn't

deter the council, though.

In a stroke of brilliance, it was suggested by one council member

that we just underground the areas on main streets -- thereby

reducing the bond debt to somewhere slightly south of $400 million --

and let the property owners in residential neighborhoods form utility

districts to underground the utilities in each neighborhood.

The formation of these districts apparently requires the approval

of two-thirds of the property owners affected. That means that the

other third, who may not wish to fund those changes, will be forced

to do so by their neighbors.

That sounds nice, doesn't it? I find myself wondering why in the

world we, the residents and voters in this city, would willingly

agree to strap ourselves with this debt when we can barely negotiate

to repair our crumbling streets?

It seems to me that our priorities are more than a little askew.

Let's hope that our new City Council will reconsider this project and

focus their much needed attention on other, more pressing, issues.

GEOFF WEST

Costa Mesa

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