COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Undergrounding proponents’ arguments not solid

Neither the Del Mar City Council members nor the undergrounding proponents provide a convincing argument for advancing utility undergrounding.
Justifying initial engineering costs for proceeding, Mayor Earnest resembles Dean Rusk escalating the Vietnam War with “in for a dime, in for a dollar.” Instead of cutting his loss, Earnest continues a divisive and questionable policy as Rusk did.
Cultural ignorances and decrepit cold war theories may have distorted Rusk’s judgment to pursue the war, but council harmony may distort Earnest’s judgment to pursue undergrounding.
The Vision 2020 Plan apparently motivates undergrounding, and a previous council chose the assessment district as the vehicle for implementing undergrounding.
Four council members have residential or proximal conflicts with one of the districts.
One council member’s wife remains a vociferous proponent. Discussing the
January storms, council member Mosier telegraphed his vote commenting “we won’t have to worry about that after we underground the poles.”
Before becoming a council member, Mark Filanc argued for undergrounding before the previous his council and presaged his vote.
Earnest’s apparent refusal to decouple district outcomes validates a power play that allows a strong vote in one district to swamp a weak vote in another district.
Retaining the right to vote city assessments and refusing to declare a definite
voter-approval percentage grants the council flexible adoption criteria.
These conflicted interests and possibly preformed opinions may explain the council’s acceptance of the proponents’ changing motivations for undergrounding.
When the proponents found cosmetic arguments ineffective, the proponents proffered enhanced fire-safety arguments.
Despite Fire Marshal Bob Scott’s asserting the rarity of a downed-line-ignited fire and insurance companies refusing to lower fire-insurance premiums in undergrounded
districts, the proponents still push enhanced fire safety. The proponents seem to lack another argument and hope fear trumps reality.
Both the proponents and the council members seem indifferent to pensioners and young families unable to cover under-grounding assessments. At recent council meetings,
approximately 60 North-Hills and Sunset residents indicated financial difficulties meeting their assessments. Their difficulties elicited little relief or concern from the council.
These residents left the council meetings fearing undergrounding and uncertain
futures. Few palliatives alleviate these residents. Dispatching the financially weak to reverse mortgage brokers and predatory lenders foists unsustainable debts on financially pressed residents.
An angel fund without wings provides little comfort. The council apparently marks its distressed citizens as disposable and views their circumstances as irrelevant.
Proponent Gary Shirts stiffens the indifference by implying in the Sandpiper that high undergrounding assessments may compensate for low Proposition 13 assessments.
The proponents’ myopic focus on undergrounding and the proponents’ deplorable treatment of Del Mar’s distressed residents may actually increase fire risks and lower property values.
Undergrounding the utility lines and reducing the distresseds’ disposable incomes curtail tree trimming, brush removal, yard care and home maintenance. Portions of Del Mar may then contain dying lawns and deteriorating homes. Environmental protection of East County scrub-brush may then provide the spark that ignites Del Mar’s newly formed tinder-box. Without a pole to blame, Del Mar’s proponents may view the ashes without a coherent explanation.
The coherent explanation vanishes because Del Mar’s council and staff only issue rules and regulations. No council or staff member understands policy analysis or economic theory. No cost-benefit analysis or proper economic evaluation accompanies any proposed policy. The council actions resemble politburo actions that produced oil at $80 a barrel oil and sold it for $40 a barrel. By abandoning a command economy and adopting a market economy, the council can achieve nearly optimal decisions. The free market automatically makes cost-benefit analyses and pursues actions with benefits exceeding costs. If the council rejects assessment districts, loose associations of neighbors will individually calculate their assessments and underground their utilities if benefits exceed costs. Some neighbors may contribute nothing, and other neighbors may contribute everything.
These individual market transactions determine the appropriate outcomes with each individual matching his marginal benefit with his marginal cost. Any undergrounding may correctly fail if costs exceed benefits.
Acrimony and dissension among current assessment districts disappear as they disappear among shoppers in supermarkets with short lines. Homeowners freely purchase undergrounding as they purchase bacon. Undergrounding skeptics may purchase no undergrounding as vegans purchase no bacon.

John Haraden is a resident of Del Mar.

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