The City Council recently voted unanimously to advance the measures to bury overhead power lines in Laguna Beach. I applaud this decision, and urge the whole community to support this important effort for the compelling reason that the morass of above ground utilities are the single biggest threat to our public safety.
Laguna Canyon Road, our other critical ingress/egress roads and over 60% of our residential neighborhoods continue to have above ground archaic and dangerous power lines. This is totally unacceptable and should concern us all for many reasons.
The fact is the above ground power lines and transformers throughout our city present an imminent risk of catastrophic fire – whether triggered by winds, earthquakes, malfunction or other causes. Recall the devastating 1993 Laguna fire. Remember the recent Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa caused by above ground utilities, which ravished whole communities, destroying thousands of homes, even into areas where utilities are already underground. And downed power lines, whatever the cause, present significant safety risks including electrocution from live wires and blocking access for evacuation and first responders in the face of a catastrophic event.
Undergrounding also carries significant benefits including city beautification, increased property values, and improved pedestrian circulation (particularly for the disabled) by removing electric poles in sidewalks.
There are some “naysayers” who advance arguments, which I do not find persuasive in the face of the extreme life safety risks. One is that undergrounding is too costly, but those costs pale in comparison to the losses from a fires or other catastrophic events, not only monetary but the human toll in injury or death, and the destruction of our homes, possessions and memories. Another is the risk from overhead utilities is overblown, but just ask our fire and police departments, or any of the thousands of people who lost their homes in the Tubbs fire and many other fires caused by overhead wires. And another is that people who have already paid to underground utilities in their neighborhoods will have to pay twice, but the council has made clear that will not occur. Only those areas not yet undergrounded will pay for that work. The whole community will only pay for undergrounding Laguna Canyon Road and the other critical ingress and egress routes which benefit us all.
The recent winds and fires bring home the point – the time to underground is now.
Tom Gibbs, Laguna Beach