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
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
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.
* EDITOR'S NOTE: If you have an issue with a decision or
discussion stemming from City Hall, or if you think the city is doing
something right, feel free to write an opinion for Watchdog, which
generally publishes on Sunday's. Either write a letter, no more than
700 words, Attention: "Watchdog," to the Daily Pilot, 1375 Sunflower
Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or e-mail a letter to