07 September 2013

Towers of Terror: Time for Tallying the Toll?

It is now certainly over, but a 10:00 "Chino Hills Towers Town Meeting" was held at Chino Hills City Hall and sponsored by Representative Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) to discuss the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP) and the aftermath of the decision of the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) to force Southern California Edison to dismantle the massive 198-foot towers built within Chino Hills as part of that project and direct the transmission lines underground.

Royce, as has been the case before, issued a four-color mailer, at taxpayer expense, which begins with a "Dear Friends" letter, stating, "We did it.  The fight to stop the monster electrical towers that would have had a devastating impact on the community is close to over and it looks like the towers are coming down." 

The expressed intent of the meeting was to "update you on everything involving the tower fight, and discuss what's next as we work to protect the community," based on the fact that "the PUC's order to remove the towers is being appealed."  While Royce opined that "I do not believe the appeal will succeed, we need to remain vigilant to the end of the process."

In a longer statement on the reverse of the card, Royce reprinted his statement welcoming the CPUC's reversal and, in a way he had not done previously, thanking state Assembly member Curt Hagman, Chino Hills mayor Peter Rogers, and the grassroots group Hope for the Hills for their work in fighting the towers.  Photos show Royce on a tour of the towers and in a meeting, the latter of which is captioned that "Rep. Royce met with anti-tower leaders to discuss his strategy before their successful trip to the Public Utilities Commission meeting in San Francisco."

Whatever role Royce may have played in some advisory capacity, whether or not the staged photo really did include "his strategy," which went unexplained in any case, there is still the question of why a federal elected official, including his colleague Rep. Gary Miller, who was soon on his way to moving out of the district Royce was going to win to another one in the Fontana area, became so involved in something that was truly a state matter. 

As noted here previously, the much-touted congressional field hearing, purportedly about the applicability of Federal Housing Administration loan guarantees in the areas adjacent to the tower right-of-way, was essentially a pretense, without actual foundation as testimony at that hearing as well as existing FHA policies cited in previous posts showed, for making the involvement of Reps. Royce and Miller an actual "federal issue."

As a political independent who registered in the 1980s as a "decline to state" voter and who maintains what is hopefully a healthy distrust of posturing and action across the political spectrum, the irony here is that these conservative Republicans often make a point of calling for limited federal intrusion in local affairs--that is, until they don't.  This kind of thing can (and does) certainly happen with Democrats, too!

Regarding Royce's call for vigilance on the appeal of the CPUC reversal, it does not appear that there is any reason to believe that the appeal is anything other than a pure formality and The Champion has reported this week that Southern California Edison is moving quickly on the preliminary work for the three-year project to reroute the TRTP underground.  Reporter Marianne Napoles stated that Edison "is acquiring at total of 85 parcels" that are in the right-of-way held for several decades by the utility giant.  Of these, 42 are residential and another ten are commercial.  The remainder are primarily owned by the City of Chino Hills.

An article generated by The Champion and found online earlier this week highlighted the fact that, of the residential land that will be picked up by Edison, a number involve the taking of substantial portions of rear yards of houses, including some on Yellowstone Circle in a small wedge of Chino that is in the path of the underground portion of the project.  In one instance, a homeowner will have virtually all of their yard taken because the right-of-way extends to within inches of a room addition built by a previous resident.  There are other houses that are affected, if not quite in that dramatic a fashion, by the proceedings. 

In another irony, while the opponents of the above-ground towers talked mainly about potential threats and effects of the behemoths, now that they are coming down, the actual and real consequences of the underground work are starting to reveal themselves (this being the tempered triumph referred to in the last post here.)  There will also be commercial property that will have to be vacated as a result of the change in the project.

The Napoles piece goes into some detail about the nature of the underground work.  The three years of construction will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays (in Chino it will be 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday), but all subject to change involving extended hours and Sunday work; involve significant boring and trenching; the construction of massive vaults and equipment; two transfer stations that will guide the lines from above to below ground and back again at the west and east ends of the affected areas and these stations will be on three-acre parcels with elements that are going to be 133 feet high.  These appear to involve what are described in the article as "a lattice steel transmission structure [that] will be built adjacent to each transition station to feed the overhead wires into the stations."

The eastern station will be constructed at the former Chino Hills city yard on Pipeline Avenue next to the 71 Freeway, adjacent to which are two Montessori preschools.  Presumably, the health and safety of the children and adults at the facilities will not be compromised--note that very generalized health and safety concerns had been raised by the opponents of the towers. 

As for the westernmost station, the paper identified the location as near the end of Eucalyptus Avenue in the Gordon Ranch area, though the proximity of the three-acre site to houses was not specified.  What was stated by Edison engineering staff was that the station would involve "extensive terracing and leveling of the hillside."

West of that point, the massive towers will remain, including in the vicinity of the Oak Tree Downs exclusive gated community, a constituency that, like the folks on Yellowstone Circle had little say in the process of determining the fate of the TRTP towers.

Meantime, The Champion article also noted that there was to be a "commemoration" of the revamped TRTP project at Coral Ridge Park yesterday afternoon with CPUC chairperson Michael Peevey, a former Edison executive, the current SCE president, Ronald Litzinger, and Mayor Rogers. 

To reiterate--there is every sympathy to those who faced having to live in the shadows of 198-foot tall towers and no one would want to do so.  Hope for the Hills conducted a highly successful campaign for reasons that were mainly relatable and understandable, but largely based on speculative concerns, including disaster scenarios of falling towers, exposure to high levels of EMF radiation, and declining home property values, which even then was an arguable point, as found in the field hearing conducted by Reps. Miller and Royce.  Recall that a major point was made of declining home values and sales in the early stages of the towers' construction, which was certainly more a reflection of the fallout from the economic collapse of 2008, given that values and sales have risen in the last few years.

And, the CPUC bears the lion's share of the blame for this fiasco by first approving and then, while construction was well underway, reversing itself. 

But now, revelations are coming out that show that there will be actual and real impacts on other residents and businesses of both Chino Hills and Chino now that the project is going underground for 3.5 miles for three years.  In this battle of wills, as opposed to a fight for "truth", there are clear winners and losers, but, in the latter category, joining Edison are local residential and commercial residents and property owners.

The question, ultimately, is whether the reversal will, on balance, have been worth it.  And that is almost entire a subjective question, which can't be quantified but qualified according to whose vested interest is examined.

Finally, regarding that "commemoration" held yesterday, presumably, there wasn't room for it in the backyard of the woman on Yellowstone Circle who soon won't have a backyard or any value to her house should she try to sell it.

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