Undergrounding Utilities - R.I.P.
At their study session on January 9, 2007, the Costa Mesa City Council was advised by a representative of Southern California Edison that, for all intents and purposes, any chance of using "Rule 20" money to place utilities underground in our city is dead. Well, maybe not dead, but certainly frozen like a cryogenically-processed corpse until at least 2011 because of the unavailability of those dollars. Based on comments made at the study session, the Public Utilities Commission doles out those dollars based on whatever whim hits them at the time. Also, they've changed the rules recently, which requires Edison to retract an agreement it had made with the city to extend it's eligibility for those funds.
So, unless the council finds a way to fund the undergrounding of utilities beyond this source of finance, it looks like Mayor Mansoor's pet project has bit the dust. This is actually good news for Costa Mesa. The last time this issue was discussed a few months ago, the same Edison representative told the council that costs for such projects had risen dramatically - four times the estimate he provided two years ago. Instead of costing around $800 million to place utilities underground city-wide, it would be more like $4 billion - with a big B. Those kinds of dollars, if financed with bonds, would place a burden on the backs of the great-grandchildren of Costa Mesa kids currently in kindergarten.
Unfortunately, the mayor was absent from this particular study session, so there is no way to assess his reaction to this news. I'm confident that he won't let it be put to rest without an attempt at resuscitation.
I agree that our city would look much nicer with all the wires underground. However, as is the case in our personal lives, the city can't have everything it wants regardless of cost. I, for example, would love to have a Ferrari, but I can't afford it. Neither can the city afford to place the utilities underground when the costs are so exorbitant.
I expect to hear from our neighbors in Newport Beach with their stories of undergrounding specific neighborhoods. I think that's just dandy - one more reason to envy them. The fact is, Newport Beach is a much wealthier city than Costa Mesa, with two-thirds the population but a budget that is 50% greater. Ah, those property values and the taxes they generate! So, while we certainly do appreciate their advice based on their experience, we're working with a very different set of circumstances - and pockets that are just not as deep.
All is not lost, though. The Edison folks tell us that wires on poles are much easier to repair in the event of a break.