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Belcaro vs. Edison: People over profits

Posted: August 31, 2008 2:27 p.m.
Updated: November 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.
 
I'm usually not one for conspiracies, but the evidence shows that Southern California Edison and the California Public Utilities Commission are in cahoots to destroy the visual landscape of Santa Clarita Valley.

The issue: the completion of the Antelope-Pardee transmission project that will bring energy from wind farms in Kern County to Los Angeles. To accomplish this goal, transmission lines must pass through the Santa Clarita Valley.

Before constructing the power lines Edison was required to complete an Environmental Impact Review that included a number of public hearings. Residents from Belcaro participated in those hearings and provided testimony as to what kind of transmission poles would be acceptable.

Residents are aware their community resides next to Edison's right-of-way. They are not opposed to transmission poles, but they wanted input on the kind of poles that would be placed next to their homes.

In December 2006, the final EIR recommendation was for Edison to use mono poles to reduce the negative visual impact on the Belcaro community. In March 2007, the CPUC approved the project with the proviso that Edison use mono poles. In this approval it was noted that Edison had requested a change to lattice type towers, but the CPUC denied their request.

Belcaro residents contacted John Boccio, the CPUC Project Manager, and Jon Davidson, project consultant, asking to be notified if there were any future changes requested by Edison. Both promised to report any tower change request; however, neither kept their promise.

In April 2008, Edison wrote to Belcaro residents stating that construction was about to begin. However, the letter failed to mention the change from mono poles to giant lattice towers.

Over a month ago, when Edison began constructing the 20-story black lattice towers, the Belcaro residents realized they have been victims of the old "bait and switch."

When the towers started going up, the residents contacted the CPUC and Edison. They discovered that the CPUC approved Edison's switch to the lattice towers from the mono poles.

This was done in secret with no independent analysis, peer review, or public notification. After several requests over a period of a month, the CPUC through its attorney and Edison gradually revealed what documentation was used to effect the OK for the "bait and switch."

The CPUC at first had claimed that it might not be public record.

During this period the residents started to contact their elected officials seeking their help.

Like many major corporations, Edison's government-relations program consists of contributing to the campaign of every elected official and supporting major charities that the political elite participate in. The goal is to co-opt the so-called community leaders so they can endorse Edison projects and make it appear as if Edison has broader support than it really does.

It's called strategic "charitable" giving. Here's an example: a couple of weeks ago I was at an event for a well-deserving charity. The head table was sponsored by Edison.

Sitting at the head table was Edison's representative and eight prominent members of the Santa Clarita Valley that could help Edison if called upon.

So Belcaro's struggle with Edison is a real David vs. Goliath battle.

I am proud to live in a community where our elected officials listen to the people rather than the powerful. The residents of Belcaro received strong support from the Santa Clarita City Council and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who challenged Edison to do the right thing.

Our state officials, Sen. George Runner and Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, also sent a letter to Edison expressing their disappointment.

In a letter dated Aug. 25, Mayor Bob Kellar and Supervisor Antonovich called out Edison on the use of lattice towers. The EIR stated Edison could use lattice towers instead of mono poles only if mono poles were not technically feasible.

The city correctly pointed out extra cost does not rise to the level of being technically infeasible.
The Belcaro residents held a rally last week that drew local and Los Angeles-area media. I witnessed first-hand as Signal reporter Jim Holt's jaw dropped as he walked down Aspen Meadow Court to confront the black 20-story towers hovering above the Belcaro homes. He immediately called the paper for a photographer to come out to capture the sight (more like blight).

The residents of Belcaro have worked hard, raised families, paid taxes and played by the rules. Many sunk their life savings into these homes as a place to retire and as an investment to pass on to their children. If this injustice is not reversed, they will lose serious property value and peace of mind. This is not how America is supposed to work.

Edmund Burke once wrote, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
The residents of Belcaro believe they are the "little community that could." With the help of the city of Santa Clarita, Supervisor Mike Antonovich and out state elected officials maybe, just maybe, Edison will reverse itself and do the right thing.

Scott Thomas Wilk is president of Liaison Communications, LLC. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.

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