Our good neighbors over in Newport Beach are all in a tizzy over the possibility of getting rid of all those unsightly wires and placing utilities on Balboa Island underground. As might be expected, factions on both sides of the issue are lining up to vent their respective collective spleens on the subject.
OLD NEWS IN COSTA MESA
Some will recall that a couple years ago our young jailer/mayor, Allan Mansoor, tried to foist off a similar scheme for the entire City of Costa Mesa. I guess he was looking for a legacy issue besides turning our city into a bastion of intolerance. As it turns out, his scheme would have cost something like $1.5 billion (yes, that's a "b") and would take the best part of two generations to complete.
PROJECT COSTS ONLY A PART OF THE TOTAL COST
In addition, it would have cost each individual property owner, including many seniors living in our city on fixed incomes, a pile of money to get the services from the street to their homes.
DUMB IDEA DUMPED
That dumb idea was dropped once the light of day was shined on it.
BALBOA PROJECT EVEN MORE COMPLICATED
Back to our pals on Balboa Island... The same kind of issues exist, plus they have the engineering complication of placing the utilities in vaults that will, in some cases, be below the water line of Newport Harbor. That nasty salt water plays havoc with electrical connections.
MORE $ MEANS IT CAN BE DONE
Now, I know that our buddies in Newport Beach have a lot more money than we here up on the bluff in Goat Hill. I also know that there have been utility districts created in other parts of Newport Beach to accomplish undergrounding. And, in all the newer areas, utilities have been placed underground as a matter of course and was folded into the cost of the new homes.
WHAT ARE THE REAL COSTS?
However, Balboa Island is a special place. It's occupied by an eclectic mixture of older, long-time residents dating back to the days when the island was dredged up from the harbor and brand-new residents who came later with pockets full of cash. The proponents of undergrounding utilities try to sway the opponents by telling them that the cost can be attached to their property tax bill and paid off over decades. They're not telling them how to come up with the out-of-pocket cash to pay for getting the utilities from their street (or alley) to the house.
SAFETY VS. MAINTENANCE
Another issue is safety. I've read that wires on poles are not as safe as underground utilities. Maybe, maybe not. I do know that the folks from Southern California Edison told us here in Costa Mesa that above ground wires are much, much easier to maintain. We do hear the occasional story about exploding electrical vaults - underground wire connections - so more credible information would be helpful.
ONE PROPONENT HAS NO VESTED INTERESTED
An interesting sidebar to this issue is that one of the most strident proponents of Balboa undergrounding is a guy who writes in a couple of local blogs, doesn't live on Balboa Island and is, in fact, a renter, with no financial stake in this issue at all. He's more than ready to burden his home-owning neighbors with the costs while bearing none of it himself. Now, I admit that I have no dog in this hunt, but do have an opinion based on some similar recent experience.
BITING OFF MORE THAN THEY CAN CHEW?
No one will deny that wires on poles are ugly, and that placing the utilities underground would make the island look nicer. However, like everything else in life, this is basically an issue of money. As we found here in Costa Mesa, you can't always have everything you want. Oh, wait! I forgot! We're talking about Newport Beach, where many people CAN have everything they want. I think the honest facts of this issue should be made available to the property owners before they bite off this mouthful, because they may not be able to swallow it later.