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Topanga Undergrounding Controversy
October 3, 2013 -
You might call it the biggest thing to hit Topanga that you never heard of.
For those of you who don't know, I'm referring to the 18-month to two-year or more construction project, commencing in February, to bury the power and phone lines from Hidden Treasures to the library.
I, for one, was shocked, not because the County is jamming it down our throats, but because the first I heard of it was three days ago. Granted, Los Angeles County officials presented the plan two-and-a-half years ago in a meeting attended by about 25 people. Since then, the County has said little to make this public knowledge. I get letters and phone calls about evacuation drills and power outages. In fact, just today I got a letter and a CD, no less, from the County about National Flood Insurance. But this one seems to have snuck up on us. As the owner of two businesses that will be significantly impacted by the restricted traffic (one lane from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday), I feel the County should have made an effort to notify me, as well as the other businesses in Topanga and the community in general, of its intentions in an effort to encourage public discussion. The County held another meeting on September 18, not to generate discussion, but to inform us of the details of the construction. It's clear to me that the County is so intoxicated by its $20-million coup that it can't see the forest for the trees. There seems to be little concern for the businesses that will suffer through this project, not to mention the quality of life of the community still reeling from the last couple of significantly smaller projects that made getting from one end of Topanga to the other a nightmare.
I estimate the cost to local businesses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, assuming only a 10 percent loss of business. I'm sure some businesses, including mine, will be hit harder than that. Also of concern, the overview on the Dept of Public Works web site (http://dpw.lacounty.gov/CONS/topanga/Page_01.cfm) states that some weekend and night work may be requested to minimize project impacts, though it was stated publicly in the meeting that no work would be performed on the weekends.
I sure hope that's true, because Saturday work wouldn't minimize the negative impact; it would maximize it.
I'm not against burying unsightly wires. And I'm a fan of Zev Yaroslavsky, County Supervisor of our Third District, a champion of our precious area and whose office is responsible for securing the funds for this project. Remember, it was Zev's office who brought us the new library. But I question the value of taking out a few hundred feet of the countless miles of power lines criss-crossing our Canyon when it's going to turn our town into a major construction zone for years to come. Susan Nissman, Zev's senior deputy, likes to talk about how it will decrease the risk of a fire. I'm no math whiz, but taking out a tenth of a percent (if that) of the area's lines doesn't seem like it would have a calculable impact on fire safety. It sounds more like pandering to our community's greatest fear.
Of course, the up side is that the Downtown area will eventually be more attractive, if you overlook the 70-foot (that's seven stories) fake pine tree cell phone tower that will be constructed between the post office and Old Topanga Canyon Road to accommodate the likes of Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. They're only 25 feet off the ground now and my cell phone works fine. I've seen those trees on the way to Big Bear. Once you've seen one, you don't forget. I can hear it described now, You know, Topanga, the place with the gigantic fake pine tree. At the end of the day, it is what it is. I'm not sure if I'm more upset about the future headache of this project or the covert way it was introduced to Topanga.
I understand the County is going to call a meeting with the area's business owners to discuss minimizing the negative impact and to encourage angry drivers to stop and shop. I would like to think they [the County] will spend one half of one percent of the cost of the project on advertising and signage promoting the Topanga business community in local publications and strategically placed signage, especially after the project is complete. Assuming we live that long.