Letters to the Editor

Letter to the Editor: Get Rid Of Overhead Wires

overhead wires courtesy photo 9-19

Look up! It’s Awful!

We see wooden poles with dangling wires and dangling equipment on almost 50% of San Francisco streets because they have never been under grounded. We see them from the windows of our homes and businesses and whenever we walk or drive down our streets. Let’s get rid of them.

We at the San Francisco Coalition to Underground Utilities (SFCUU) want to get rid of the ever-increasing overhead wires and wooden poles that that mar the views and landscapes on almost half of our streets. SFCUU is a neighborhood organization, formed in 2013, to get the city to finish the job of undergrounding.

Undergrounding utilities can improve disaster preparedness and reduce outages due to fallen wires. Undergrounding can provide significant safety, aesthetic, and property value benefits to the city. Undergrounding can improve views and contribute to the finances of a city whose beauty is a significant source of public and private tourist income. Visitors from other cities often comment that San Francisco, a famous city on a beautiful natural site, is marred by the wires and equipment strung from and on the poles to foul our iconic views.

The most important task ahead of us now is getting the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to approve a budget allocation of about $2.5 million to $3 million from our City’s $10 billionbudget to draft a preliminary outline for an Undergrounding Master Plan. A full-scale Master Plan would include specifics of implementation, including activities, timelines and cost estimates, laying out what will be needed to execute and finance city-wide undergrounding.

How to Pay for Undergrounding?Whenever members of the San Francisco Coalition to Underground Utilities start discussing getting rid of these hideous wires and poles, the first questions we encounter are: “How much will it cost?” and “Where will you get the funds?”

We have researched these questions a great deal, but we must admit that at this point we’re not yet sure of the answers. Why not? First, because undergrounding is such a huge job – covering 470 miles of city streets. Second, because the answers will come only when the city funds a comprehensive plan to facilitate the undergrounding.

Meanwhile, we continue to research costs and sources of funds. The SFCUU believes, based on the most recent figures on the cost of undergrounding from other California cities, that overhead pole removal and utility wire undergrounding can be done in San Francisco for about $6 million per mile. And about 11 miles a year would be practicable.

Just some of the possible sources of funds include city taxes already collected on telecommunications companies and their facilities and taxes collected on the use of the overhead wires for electricity and telecommunications. The city collects $130 million plus each year in such taxes, which could be used to underground the utilities. By using about half of the taxes collected on what would then be undergrounded, we could launch a very significant program to complete undergrounding for the some 45% of San Francisco that has been passed over for decades.

Clearly, these figures prove that ample, appropriate funds exist right now to draft the comprehensive master plan needed for undergrounding, detailing what has to be done, by what means, on what timetable, and ultimately at what cost.

Developments so far:We have produced a comprehensive handbook on undergrounding, detailing what has been done and what needs to be done. We have also produced a booklet of photographs, “Look up! It’s Awful!” showing some of our pet hates. Both of these documents can be viewed on our website http://sfcuu.org

Please Join Us!We welcome input from one and all. We are eagerly seeking participants from all neighborhoods and supervisorial districts of San Francisco. Even if your location is already undergrounded, free of this urban blight, we must work together to end the problem on a city-wide basis.

 Start by looking up. Be appalled! Urge your friends and neighbors to look up.

 Enlist the endorsement and support of your supervisor and your neighborhood organizations.

 Forward this article to your friends and neighbors so we may increase our reach across the city.

 Attend a monthly meeting, meet the SFCUU folks, and join us (details on our webpage.)

Contact us! Website: http://sfcuu.org; or email: info@sfcuu.org.

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