Morass of above ground utilities is the single biggest threat to our public safety

The City Council at its recent meeting voted unanimously to advance the measures to bury overhead power lines in Laguna Beach. I applaud this decision, and urge the whole community to do so. We all should support this important effort for the compelling reason that the morass of above ground utilities is the single biggest threat to our public safety.

Laguna Canyon Road, our other critical ingress/egress roads as well as over 60 percent of our residential neighborhoods continue to have above ground archaic and dangerous power lines and transformers. This is totally unacceptable and should concern us all for many reasons.

The fact is that above ground power lines and transformers throughout our City present an imminent risk of catastrophic fire - whether triggered by winds, other weather conditions, earthquakes, malfunction or other causes. Recall the devastating 1993 Laguna fire and the recent Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa which was caused by above ground electric wires. These fires ravished the communities, destroying thousands of homes (including my sister-in-law’s), even into areas where utilities are already underground. And beyond fires, downed power lines and poles, from whatever the cause, present significant safety risks including electrocution from live wires and blocking access for people evacuating and first responders arriving in the face of a catastrophic event, as well as overhead wire radiation and the risk of collusion to motor vehicles.

Undergrounding also carries significant benefits including (1) City beautification, (2) increased property values, (3) improved pedestrian circulation by removal of obstructing poles in the middle of sidewalks which particularly hinder access for the disabled, (4) undergrounding provides the opportunity to cost effectively add high speed internet fiber (and needed competition to the Cox Cable high-speed internet monopoly).

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 fire or other catastrophic event, not only monetary but the human toll in injury or death, and the destruction of our homes, possessions and memories. Another is that the risk from above ground 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 others that have been cause 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