Questions Undermine Undergrounding Proposal
Caltrans is currently in design and planning to widen Laguna Canyon Road within its state-owned right-of-way. Laguna Beach’s proposal to spend $90 million of taxpayer’s money undergrounding on state-owned land is absurd. Caltrans will pay for its widening with power companies, as happened in the Big Bend area in Laguna Canyon in 2016.
Laguna Canyon Road is undergrounded from the Sawdust Festival to Coast Highway and in Big Bend already. The city’s Agenda Bill No. 15, which says that we need to be “Protecting Key Evacuation Routes” caused by downed power lines that could impede safe exit, is deceptive misinformation.
Do you think Laguna Canyon Road will flow any better in an emergency with utility poles and wires underground and just one lane outbound? This city sponsored undergrounding on state owned right of way won’t change the current traffic gridlock problems or increase its emergency exit capacity.
It’s time to stop resisting widening Laguna Canyon Road if we have suddenly deficient evacuation routes. Actually, two of three evacuation routes along Coast Highway both north and south already are without overhead wires, with the exception of five blocks from Diamond Street to Fern Drive.
In a meeting on April 24, the city’s undergrounding program manager identified several alternative routes in different areas of town around Coast Highway if that roadway is blocked by accidents or other natural disasters. In the village area, the alternative evacuation route identified was Glenneyre Avenue, which ends in either downtown gridlock or a substandard street at Alta Vista Way. A similarly identified alternative in North Laguna is Monterey Drive, which is farther inland from Coast Highway than the logical, adjacent Cliff Drive, Cypress Street or Hillcrest Drive. In South Laguna, the identified alternative to Coast Highway gridlock is Virginia Way, a one-way, dead end and substandard width alley rather than rerouting to West Street over to Mar Vista and Sunset Avenue to 10thAvenue.
Council member Bob Whalen responded to my Nov. 1 email with an explanation of two possible ballot options. “The second ballot would apply only to the areas in the city that are not yet undergrounded. This approach makes sense in that it avoids having neighborhoods that have already paid to underground from paying a second time, which would not be fair.” He also said, “We receive about $100,000 a year from SCE and $25,000 a year from SDG&E… to underground…the voters get to decide.”
I didn’t know expensive city television ads, biased political mailers that display scare and fear tactics about fire danger would be utilized at taxpayer’s expense to try and emotionally sway voters to back the proposal.
As a land planner, I lay out real fire access routes on a professional level in my design of master planned communities. I’ve fought many brushfires and in the 1993 Laguna fire all our residents and guests egressed safely. No power poles or utility line has caused a larger brush fire in Laguna to justify city claims about “Dangerous electrical overhead wires.” Yet this would be the largest expense in Laguna’s history.
I meet regularly with other city and county officials to design and plan secondary access routes and fuel modification zones for public safety. The real emergency evacuation route needed is a public use Alta Laguna Road extension between Arch Beach Heights and Top of the World, with a connection to Bluebird Canyon Road, where only one evacuationroute exists.
The burying of utility lines alongkey exit road locations could easily be handled by credits purchased by the cityand annual undergrounding feespaid by utility companies. Possible candidates are streetssuch as lower Park Avenue and five blocks remaining on Coast Highway.
The city proposed 1% sales tax or bond to finance undergrounding isn’t needed when you fairly identify these limited traffic, wire conflict points. Neighborhoods along the city identified evacuation routes can form their own undergrounding districts and pay their own fair share as other neighborhoods have done to obtain improve views.
Overhead powerlines will soon be obsolete and removed by emerging technology such as home power plants and solar tile roofs in the next 10 to 20 years, long before any bond is paid off. This illuminates the unnecessary city efforts and costs of putting the measure on a ballot and exposes those who would rather have 24,000 taxpayers pay for their views.
Let’s not kid anyone. This undergrounding issue has always been about having clear ocean views for the last 40 plus years.
Everyone should view this YouTube video: Tony Seba: Clean Disruption – Energy & Transportation www.youtube.com/watch?v=2b3ttqYDwF0 on future of energy and how overhead utilities will become obsolete in the next 10-20 years.
Bryan T.S. Menne
The author is a 54 year resident, land planner and landscape architect and former county firefighter.