San Diego plans for the future

With all the excitement over the last few weeks, I never had a chance to mention this remarkable account of the long-run vision of San Diego’s City Council.

Utility lines in San Diego. Source:
San Diego Union Tribune.

The San Diego Union Tribune recently related these details on the city’s plan to move utility lines underground:

In 2001, the City Council approved the ambitious plan to bury utility lines along San Diego’s older residential streets, largely for aesthetic reasons….

San Diegans began paying the SDG&E [San Diego Gas and Electric] fees in 2003, and the AT&T [phone] surcharge started this month. They probably will pay them for at least 50 more years, though officials estimate it will take in excess of 60 years to finish burying more than 1,000 miles of utility lines….

Power poles and sagging wires near Ingraham Street and Pacific Beach Drive are scheduled for removal in 2067. Lloyd and Jerry Harrison, who live in the area on Sequoia Street, aren’t making plans to enjoy the unobstructed views.

“I won’t be here,” said Lloyd Harrison, 88, who has lived on the street for 18 years.

His son, Jerry, said: “I’m almost 65. I won’t be here, either.”

They expect to pay about $3.50 a month in line-burying surcharges to San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and AT&T until they draw their last breaths.

And for those who are alive in 2067, I somehow doubt they’ll be communicating with each other using phones connected by copper wires.

There is an economic theorem that if an outcome is efficient, it would be possible to implement the allocation as the outcome of a competitive equilibrium with a certain definition of property rights and allocation of initial wealth. Can you imagine any rearrangement of wealth or ownership rights in which you’d pay $3.50 a month today in order to have your telephone wires underground in 2067? I can’t.

But I can imagine a city council that might want to take from one group to benefit another.

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17 thoughts on “San Diego plans for the future

  1. spencer

    Gee you would think that great capitalist companies like SDG&E [San Diego Gas and Electric] and AT&T
    could do a better job than this. Wonder why they are so inefficient. I can see why you are upset.

  2. JDH

    James Hymas, but wouldn’t you want to see it completed before 2067? That’s the part of the story that I found amusing.

  3. Joseph

    I kinda doubt they are going to save all that money for 60 years and then do it all in the last year.
    My city has a 40 year plan for incrementally repaving every single street. Now, needs may change and traffic patterns may change requiring the plan to change, but cities have a very long outlook than stretches beyond a single generation. Just because something can’t be accomplished in one year doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make incremental changes over a long period.

  4. JDH

    Sure, Joseph, they’re starting it now. But why should the people on Sequoia Street pay to have it done on Pleasantview Drive? Because it will be “their turn” in 2067? I say the people on Pleasantview Drive should be the ones to pay for the process on Pleasantview Drive.

  5. Joseph

    I suppose I could say that if you get to choose which civic improvement projects you want to pay for then I get to choose which wars I want to pay for, but I won’t.
    But I will ask, do you get to choose which street repaving projects you would like to pay for? Are you taking door to door collections to fix the potholes on your street?

  6. James I. Hymas

    It’s a long term project, for sure. Two generations of contractors and labourers are going to retire on it.

    But that’s why we have institutions in the first place – whether they’re private corporations or public governments; so that projects of such a long term nature can be undertaken.

    As far as the taxation angle goes – well, when it comes to government services of any kind, I’m a net payer. I suspect that every single reader of this blog is a net payer. I pay for all kinds of things I’m never going to use.

    My per capita share of Ontario’s university budget, for instance, is about CAD 500 p.a. I feel quite certain that, if you were to investigate closely, you would find that there are some residents of Sequoia Street who, at best, utilize the services of the UCSD economics department in an even more indirect method than they enjoy the absence of utility poles when visiting their friends on Pleasantview Drive.

    The problem with respect to this issue is twofold:(i) there is a targetted tax for a programme which, I suggest, would be more logically funded by general revenues and (ii) the schedule was made public.

    I will agree, however, that there is an amusing aspect to paying a targetted tax for something aiming in a different direction. It’s amusing enough that I have to repeat one of my favourite Irish jokes:

    Pat and Mike are looking for work and eventually get a job installing telephone poles. The foreman sends them off to install the telephone poles on Sequoia Avenue. “Just start at one end and keep going”, he says. “If you have any problems, just ask the crews on Pleasantview Drive.”

    At the end of the day, Pat and Mike arrive back at the depot long after every other crew. They’re dirty, exhausted and hungry, but they carry themselves proudly, with the air of men who’ve done a tough job and done it well.

    The foreman says he can tell they’ve been working hard. “And how many poles were you able to install, boys?”

    “Two”, says Pat.

    “Two?” sputters the foreman. “Two? The crew on Pleasantview Drive put in thirty poles today, and they’ve been home an hour now!”

    “Oh, yeah”, says Mike. “But you should see how much of each pole they left sticking out of the ground!”

  7. Joseph Somsel

    The California Public Utilities Commission already has such a program in place albeit on a much restrict scope. Moneys are already collected from rates and go into a fund that allocates it to local juristictions based on population. Specific cities, etc. get to decide where they want it invest in undergrounding and when.
    San Diego has just decided to make it a city initiative to do it comprehensively, sooner and with more local money.
    Sure, power lines are not the most attractive of modern infrastructures, but undergrounding has much, much higher capital and maintenance costs. If people want teh current system, they will have to pay for it.
    There is still no way to atomize the electric grid – we’ll all on it together for sound technological and economic reasons.

  8. DickF

    Typical government action. I wonder if San Diego has any bridges that need repair. Of course that is not as visible to the voters as the utility lines and besides if the bridge falls they can simply convene a commission to determine who is a fault, because it certainly could not be the politicians. They were busy with the important task of burying utility lines.

  9. spencer

    DickF — you do not understand.
    It is not the government that is taking so long to do the project.
    It is the two private companies of AT&T and San Diego Gas and Electrid that are doing the work.
    I bet this was a fairly typical project. The government but it out to bid and probably the only bids were from these two monopoly firms that were the only ones with the knowledge and equipment to do the job. So the government had the choice of accepting their terms or not doing the project. What you are seeing is the ability of monopoly firms to stick it to their customers.
    I see no evidence in the article to contradict my analysis. But if someone knows something about it that is not in the article I have been known to change my mind when I see different facts.

  10. Anonymous

    In 2001, the City Council approved the ambitious plan to bury utility lines along San Diego’s older residential streets, largely for aesthetic reasons….
    I was talking about this opening sentence. The City Council feels it is important to buy utility lines. Should this really be something that the City Council should spend its time on? Are there really no more pressing problems than utility lines? They did this because it gets them positive publicity not because it is a pressing problem. This is not unique to San Diego, but it is inherent to government. For government infrastructure will always take a back seat to the flashy, beauty contest items. Private companies do not have the luxury of ignoring infrastructure in their business because it could end their business. With government political failure concerning infrastructure actually gets the politicians face time and publicity.

  11. spencer

    Anonymous at 8:45 — everything you said may be right but it still does not change the fact that all the complaints in the article were about the poor job the two private companies were doing. No body in the article said the government had done anything wrong. You probably are right this project may not be the most important thing the city could do. But, the article pointed out that some homeowners were paying up to $60,000 to have wires blocking their views replaced with underground wiring so you have no evidence that the voters of San Diego think this should not be done. Yes, some did and they used the democratic process to try and get it stopped. Guess what, they lost. That is what happens in a democracy everybody doesn’t always get their way. At least so far people like you haven’t completely turned our democracy into some sort of right wing dictatorship.

  12. DickF

    Sorry, I was Anonymous. No offense taken.
    I know that we see things differently but I think that if someone wants to pay $60,000 to put lines underground fine. I imagine they will be done before 2067.
    You are absolutely correct by implying that the two private companies are taking the citizens to the cleaners, but don’t lose sight of the fact of their unholy alliance with government to take a little something from everyone.
    You also may misunderstand democracy. The reason the Constitution does not set up a democracy is because a democracy can vote away your rights. Government should be limited so that others cannot band together to take your property for their own use.

  13. Loe225

    More Republican scams probably designed to fuel money into Republican campaigns.
    And your Democrat friends, with their dumbed-down, corner-cutting standards, are so wonderful? Most of the really screwed up, corruption-ridden cities in America are dominated and run by liberals.
    Should this really be something that the City Council should spend its time on?
    Why not? One of the reasons so many American cities are uglier than their counterparts in Europe is because power lines often have been left exposed to full view. They look like hell and give towns like San Diego a backwards, Third-Worldish quality.

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