Another Wind Storm, Another Power Outage

Last week’s windstorm blew through town and left many in Montecito without power. Again. Some residents were dark for days. Sheffield Drive and parts of East Valley Road were closed – again – to help speed up the process of repairing dangling wires and cutting fallen trees.

In January of 2003, our cover story questioned why Montecito had yet to underground its telephone/cable/power lines. Four years later, nothing has changed. Every time a pole breaks, falls down, or is hollowed out by woodpeckers, another one goes up in its place. Maintaining Montecito’s semi-rural aesthetic appeal is a major concern for most of us. Montecito boasts a community plan, a board of architectural review and a planning commission, with which to preserve that semi-rural atmosphere. Yet, nearly every year, utility poles are downed by wind, rain, and falling trees, and we lose power.

With all the new technology, it is curious that Montecito has yet to put its power/telephone poles underground. As we observed four years ago: “Society has outlawed lead paint and asbestos; automobiles no longer spew out dark clouds of exhaust; everyone under 18 must wear a helmet while riding a bicycle or skateboard. We recycle nearly 50% of our waste; billboards are no longer built; we can’t smoke in restaurants; seatbelts are required in automobiles; why, we’ve even agreed to remove septic tanks from beachfront houses.” New York City will soon ban the use of trans-fat in all restaurants. Yet our power lines stand tall. It’s time to “Just say no” to further replacement of aboveground utility poles.

What can be done?

The potential cost of undergrounding has increased significantly since 2003, when Ted Stern headed up the Montecito Association Underground Wiring Task Force. His group researched the plausibility and cost of undergrounding Montecito utility poles. Fiber optics systems had yet to be installed and it created a window of opportunity to eliminate future costs by having to underground an additional utility. Unfortunately, that window has closed. Verizon, which was willing to consider being part of the undergrounding process has gone ahead and installed its new lines aboveground.

Early estimates were that $50 million dollars would have paid for undergrounding all of Montecito, but with added construction costs and additional utilities (high-speed internet and digital cable), the cost has likely doubled or even tripled.

Ted Stern reminds us that the City of Santa Barbara has a program in place that requires new home construction and extensive remodels to remove aboveground utility poles adjacent to the property and place new services underground. The appeal of such a plan is that it provides a solution that over decades would underground most utilities in our community without imposing a bond or a tax increase.

With all the private fundraising that takes place in Montecito for other causes, raising money to underground problematic areas of this community would not be out of line. Some residents have suggested dividing up Montecito into districts that could be done one at a time with fundraising efforts from the county and private citizens. Another way might be by ballot, mandating that no utility poles be replaced, that when they have ceased to function, that section must be placed underground. If you have a better idea, or a plan that could work, please e-mail: tim@montecitojournal.net or go to our website: www.montecitojournal.net, click on Editorial, and you can respond there. We’d really appreciate the input.