Undergrounding: Another Trojan Horse

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Remember the fire-and-fear campaign of 2018? If we don’t underground our utilities, they said, Laguna will burn like Paradise, Calif., then in a referendum vote, Laguna defeated the bond measure. Well, today, they are at it again. They couch the Protect and Connect undergrounding campaign in eco-friendly bike lanes and a transit route down reversible traffic lanes from Canyon Acres to El Toro Road.

This brief summary is taken from the August 2022 Project Study Report approved by the city manager and Caltrans. Of five alternative designs, the preferred design, Alt-5, shows the existing 34-foot pavement travelway will expand to add bike lanes and sidewalk improvements on both sides and a transit route with 10 stops. The existing right-of-way (RW) is from 68 to 95 feet; the project will consume all of it, and even Big Bend, at 53 feet, grows another nine feet. The SCE underground lines are in vaults on or outside the maximum RW boundary, in cases on private property.

No increase in traffic volume is planned, and the speed limit will remain at 40mph. Traffic analysis shows that the Level of Service (LOS) for traffic will not improve, remaining at ‘F’ in 2030 and 2050; only biking and walking will improve over the present no-provision condition. The estimated construction costs are $40 million, RW Acquisition costs are $78 million, and the Protect and Connect Alt-5 total is $141 million.

On May 7, Public Works hosted Protect and Connect, inviting the public to review design alternatives. The meeting was heated and emotional, with 100 attendees pushing back the lack of transparency, planning, scale, cost and construction disruption to rural Laguna Canyon for six years. Two days later, the mayor’s newsletter called the meeting “a success!”

During the 2018 fire-and-fear campaign, a city staff report proposed three project alternatives for SR-133: 1. No build option. 2. Underground power utilities for $90 million. 3. Hardening the high-risk LCR utility poles for $2 million. An alternative third option would meet the objective of fire protection, yet neither our subcommittee nor anybody else ever mentioned it again. Maybe some view the hardening alternative as too cheap.

Mark Thomas Consultants said the project will require locating underground vaults outside the right-of-way, which would require easements from property owners forcing eminent domain, which is both infeasible and cost-prohibitive.

HDR Consultants said the benefit-cost analysis shows that under certain conditions, the project is economically worthwhile, but not well in excess of the project cost.

Finally, pending legislation (March SB-960 Weiner) will force Caltrans by mandate, Caltrans must provide a multi-modal solution for LCR with or without Undergrounds.

Given consultants hired for expert project recommendations, shouldn’t our city subcommittee heed the advice? Is modifying LCR for no traffic improvement worth the disruption and cost? Just wondering.

Les Miklosy, Laguna Beach

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Les, I will make it short. I am one hundred % against the city owning the road, we can fire safe the poles with steel and leave our canyon alone, saving millions upon millions, the city or shall I say CC is spending a ton for these people to help sell it to the residents, stash the cash, I think most residents are not interested except the development community. I am far more interested in getting our water pipes and sewage handled which has been put off with band-aids for 20 years. How much are we paying in fines now, for this never being handled?

  2. According to this article the greater portion of coastal discharges aren’t addressed at all: “We’re guilty of abuse that’s being kept hidden from our own residents plus maintain a false and deceptive image for our tourism industry as well.” https://patch.com/california/lagunabeach/city-laguna-beach-dont-test-dont-tell-enviro-stewardship#google_vignette On May 28 2024 another collision with a utility pole blocked traffic on Laguna Canyon Road. Simple hardening of risky poles and traffic calming measures would address collisions and fire risk immediately, not 6 more years from now. Yes, Laguna Beach City has higher immediate priorities than squandering cash for “beautification”.

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