Undergrounding Utilities: Less Safe, Less Reliable, More Expensive

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I realize that I had a letter published a couple of weeks ago, but I feel compelled to respond to a recent letter by Aaron Cook that is a thinly veiled attack on the credibility of the noundergrounding.com coalition. Please permit me to make some purely factual corrections.

Mr. Cook states, “above ground transformer boxes are prohibited.” This is arguable. According to the Edison Electric Above-Ground Equipment Initiative (on.sce.com/1Aznoo0) begun in 2010 “to increase worker safety and increase electric system reliability” and to constrain upward pressure on utility rates, “California courts and the California Public Utilities Commission have held that on matters of the design of the electric system, the authority of the CPUC is paramount, and in most every instance, cities can neither prohibit nor restrict utilities from installing equipment above ground.”

In any case, according to Edison, above-ground electric equipment is clearly safer, more reliable and less expensive. And in all “undergrounded” electrical systems, there is much equipment that absolutely needs to be placed on the ground on public and private property.

Mr. Cook variously describes information being circulated [on noundergrounding.com] as irresponsible, misleading, and inaccurate propaganda. I challenge anyone to go to noundergrounding.com and find anything but accurate factual information, in most cases with original references.

Mr. Cook alludes to a “cobbled together” list of opponents, “some of which are duplicates and not in any district or have changed their minds,” and claims that “they make up less than 15 percent of the proposed districts.” These false accusations haven’t a shred of truth.

The “cobbled together” list now numbers 207 Newport Heights District 118 parcel owners (as of May 5). There are and never have been any duplicate names or out-of-District names listed on the website. These 207 homeowners now represent exactly 40 percent of the parcels in District 118 (207 of 517 total), with more supporters joining daily.

The following is an explanation of the petition process and why the 40 percent number is so significant.

If 60 percent of the homeowners ‘acknowledge interest’ by signing a vaguely worded postcard, it will obligate the City to have a binding election by mail. If 51 percent of the responses (not 51 percent of the total homeowners) are in favor, ALL homeowners (including those who can’t even be reached by the City because of incorrect address information on the City list) will be forced to spend an average of $25,000 and delay by up to eight years already funded alley improvements. In other words, now that we have reached the 40 percent threshold, it is difficult to see how the undergrounding petition can succeed.

Moreover, the petition process was so flawed from the beginning that Assistant City Engineer Michael Sinacori and Councilman Tony Petros publicly assured us months ago that anyone who has inadvertently signed their postcard can retract their names by contacting Mr. Sinacori at [email protected]. That also goes for anyone who has signed the incomplete “official” petitions that have been illegally stuffed directly in homeowners’ mailboxes (a federal offense), omitting important petition wording such as “parcel is subject to foreclosure (no notice of delinquency or grace period) if we do not pay by said annual deadlines.”

Since my last letter, another month has passed (bringing it to a total of almost four months) since the Pro-Undergrounding mailing was sent to every proposed District property owner at City expense. Despite continued repeated requests, both the City and the pro-undergrounding proponents absolutely refuse to officially divulge the actual number of homeowners that have signed their petition. This is in distinct contrast to the nearly complete transparency of the noundergounding.com coalition.

Mr. Sinacori and Mr. Vukojevic (Deputy Public Works Director/City Engineer), at a May 5 meeting, agreed that the undergrounding of utilities was primarily aesthetic. When presented with evidence to support the 40 percent number of the noundergrounding.com coalition, Mr. Sinacori and Mr. Vukojevic both agreed that the chances of the petitioners coming up with the number needed to proceed was almost a mathematical impossibility.

The City should end this divisive petition process now.

It is wrong for the City or any proponents to impose such a significant financial burden (read TAX) on homeowners for an already safely provided and paid-for utility simply for aesthetics.

Portia Weiss

Newport Beach

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  1. Please use the official City Website for any FAQ….we actually only reference the City FAQ on our own website http://www.improvenewportheights.com
    First off, you claim $25K when the city website itself states $20K….the list of mis-information goes on……

    As far as reliability, this is a recent email that I received from a Newport Heights resident…a testimonial of sorts which I will let speak for itself:

    “As a matter of fact, we lived through two “undergroundings” … Newport Island and Peninsula Point.

    Process: Mostly seamless and results speak for themselves. Yes there is construction, but we were not overly inconvenienced at all (much like the recent street resurfacing). Vents are 3’ H +/- x 6” W +/- … green in color (if one wanted to paint it to better match something else aesthetically, not sure anyone would notice or care). We have a fire hydrant in front of our house which we don’t even notice, and the vent is less noticeable than the hydrant.

    Service: Newport Island … Vastly improved. Peninsula Pt. … We weren’t there long enough after completion to completely evaluate but had no problems at all during the time that we were. Our friends that still live there have had no issues (and two of them built new homes as work was being done).

    Results: I would urge anyone (as I did one “No Undergrounding” individual who knocked on our door) to drive down to either location to see the results for themselves … night (sky) and day (sky) difference!”