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Welcome to A Bubbling Cauldron, a blog dedicated to the observations and opinions of this writer. Most of the time the subject will be local politics and politicians - those issues and/or people affecting the lives of those of us in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach. Occasionally, I might write about something obscure that interests me. Or, I may just launch off into some philosophical rant if the urge moves me. I might even include comments by others from time to time.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

More Hiding Wires
Recently, on this web log and in our local newspaper of record, the Daily Pilot, I commented on our mayor's latest scheme - his plan to spend more than a billion dollars to place utility wires underground throughout the city. This subject has evoked some comments from individuals in our neck of the woods which require a reply.

First, I would like to thank Newport Beach residents Anna and Ron Winship for their thoughtful letter of guidance, published in the Daily Pilot. I agree with them - placing utilities underground tends to enhance the look of the communities in question - that was never the question. We here in Costa Mesa have many newer communities which reflect such planning. It's a good idea, no question about it. However, like anything else in life, it comes with a cost. We here in Costa Mesa, where the per capita income is approximately one third that of our neighbors in Newport Beach, need to give this issue some serious thought before taking that first bite of the elephant, as the Winships so cleverly portrayed it.

The process to place all the utilities in Costa Mesa underground will be costly and time-consuming - it's estimated that the entire process could take several decades to complete. It may be a "worthy goal", to use their words, but not at any cost.

Then, our young jailer/mayor, Allan Mansoor, took me to task in his recent response, also in the Daily Pilot. In fact, he accused me of lying to the readers of that newspaper. His actual phrase was, "Geoff West also gets it wrong with his misstatements about how this will cost individual homeowners my making them pay for burying utilities on their property." I think our mayor needs to do his homework on this subject - as I did.

Regardless how the undergrounding is paid for - through the use of bonds, utility taxes or whatever - that money pays only for the contractor, Southern California Edison, to get the power to the property line. Any costs incurred to get the power, cable television and telephone to the homes from that point would, indeed, be borne by the individual property owners. That's a fact, confirmed yesterday for me by representatives of the city and Southern California Edison.

Costs will vary based on the circumstances on individual lots, but I know what the estimate for my home was 18 months ago. The $11,000 dollars I was quoted at the time was a conservative estimate. My contractors, with whom I spoke again recently, affirmed that those numbers would have risen to at least the $15,000 I mentioned in my commentary. The costs each homeowner will face will depend on the length of the trench, whether it goes through concrete or dirt, whether it must cross landscaped areas, under a patio, etc.

Now, this may be no big deal to our mayor, who rents an apartment in this city, but it should be. One gentleman who owns apartments in Costa Mesa called me the other day to comment that the renters of this town might be the swing votes on the issue when it's presented to the voters - maybe this fall. He cautioned them to understand that the property owners will simply pass the costs for this implementation on to them in the form of increased rents.

Additionally, representatives of Southern California Edison confirmed for me that the maintenance costs for underground utilities are much greater than our present wire-on-pole configuration. Do you actually think those increased costs will not be passed on to the consumers? Interestingly, I've heard from friends who live in communities with undergrounded utilities, relaying horror stories of long power outages caused by flooded vaults, traffic accidents which hit above ground boxes, etc. This is not a scare tactic, it's the reality of the situation - something we need to consider before casting our votes on this issue.

Also, in a perfect world, the power, cable and telephone folks would all agree to place their wires in the same trench. I'm led to believe that this is not usually the case - that each of them typically want their own hole! That means our streets would be in an almost perpetual state of construction as this process moves forward.

Would I like to see the wires on poles gone? Yes. Am I willing to pay for it, whatever the cost to me and my neighbors? No. Our mayor needs to understand what some of us have learned - that you can't have everything you want in life. I, for example, would love to have one of those $400,000 sports cars I drool over in automotive magazines - but I can't afford it.
I agree with the mayor, that the costs for undergrounding will only rise in the future. He states, "...if we don't do it now, we never will." OK, I can live with that.

I encourage our mayor to do his homework and then consult with his cadre of supporters, some of whom are living on fixed incomes on the Westside, to see how they feel about having to shell out thousands of dollars to have trenches dug, wires pulled and connected before he moves forward with this plan.

The fact remains that this is really a cosmetic change for the communities in question. Undergrounding the utilities will not improve their performance or durability. The neighborhoods will simply not have the blemishes the poles and wires represent. We have to decide how much we're willing to pay - and for how long - for this little nip and tuck. I realize this argument may be falling on deaf ears in a region where botox parties are the rage and where plastic surgeons outnumber heart surgeons by a huge margin.

The mayor was correct when he stated, "Ultimately, this decision rests with the voters." I hope the voters will do a better job of studying this issue than he has before they cast their votes. I also hope the voters will remember that he will be right there on the ballot along with this issue and act accordingly.
8:36 pm pst

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

What Is Costa Mesa?
What kind of a community is Costa Mesa? This simple question is a real enigma for me.

There was a time not to very long ago when our city seemed like a pretty nice, peaceful, comfortable place in which to live and raise our families. That was before we elected leaders who pander to the vocal, disgruntled few among us to the detriment of the broader community. Today Costa Mesa is a city in turmoil.

We have nearly thirty public parks, yet seem to be determined to limit their use by people who don't meet our demographic preferences. No longer can kids just go to the park and play a pick-up game of touch football or soccer or bat a baseball around without fear of being cited by a Park Ranger.

We have elected leaders who seem determined to expel hardworking, peaceful residents - the Latino folks - from our city while welcoming an over abundance of half-way houses and recovery facilities.

We try to force charities from our borders by reducing funding for their efforts, yet we are home to nearly 100 registered sex offenders.

We tout ourselves as the "City of the Arts" and proudly wear the assumed mantle of sophistication that title implies and yet, in some parts of our city, we have six times the number of bars and liquor stores than our zoning should permit.

We say we take pride in the diversity of this city, yet our leaders have encouraged the participation of racists among us on influential city committees.

Our mayor says he only wants to remove criminals from our streets with his plan to have our local police become trained to enforce federal immigration screening, but his plan has polarized this community. He says there will be no sweeps, yet revels in the embrace of the leaders of the radical Minuteman Project and was recently made an honorary member. He, in just a couple short months, has managed to undo the trust and faith in government among the Latino community that has taken decades to build.

Our streets are crumbling beneath our tires and major intersections suffer from gridlock, yet we continue to approve projects which triple or quadruple the density in our neighborhoods.

We have people in the community who decry the many industrial businesses on the Westside and their supposed negative health affects on local residents, yet our leaders approve the construction of condominiums across the street from a foundry.

Our leaders ignore the recommendations of the committee appointed to hammer out a workable, acceptable solution to the perceived decay on the Westside and, instead, implement a plan that will certainly result in all industrial uses being squeezed out, taking with them the jobs and tax base on which this city was built.

The beginning of that process can be seen as approvals are currently being sought for a residential development which will be virtually surrounded by industrial businesses. This is the crack in the dike.

Our leaders squabble over nickel and dime issues on the budget, yet seem more than willing to burden our residents with over a billion dollars to place utility wires underground.

We share a big hunk of our infrastructure and a school district with Newport Beach, yet our leaders seemed determined to spit in their eye any chance they get.

Nearly two decades ago our leaders used the sledgehammer of eminent domain to redevelop what became Triangle Square and now the current group seems more than willing to watch that white elephant wither and decline - a monument to failed vision at the gateway to our downtown.

In my opinion, all this and more is a result of failed leadership. We elected people to our City Council who are just too small for the job. We elected people as our "leaders" who bring no leadership experience to their positions. We elected leaders who don't understand the concept of leadership. Some of our elected officials seem overwhelmed with arrogance - they seem to feel they know it all and shouldn't have to take the time to consult with their constituents on major issues. We elected "leaders" who jeer and taunt concerned speakers from the dais and trade epithets with demonstrators outside their business.

In my opinion, these are signs of small people in big jobs. We, the voters in this city, are responsible for this mess - we elected the City Council. It's up to us to fix this problem in November, when we have the chance to return this city to the hands of mature, seasoned leaders - those who will work hard to do what is right for the community as a whole, not just the vocal, angry few.
3:57 pm pst

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Copyright, 2006 - Geoff West