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Stop Taxing Our Property

A new coalition of concerned residents in town called S.T.O.P – Stop Taxing Our Property (, has formed to give residents all the facts about undergrounding, not just those the City and its consultants want to “educate” you about. 

The City had budget surpluses of $9.9 million in FY 2015, $9.8 million in FY 2016, and recently $4.8 million in 2017. If undergrounding is so safety essential, why haven’t those surpluses been saved for undergrounding, rather than placing the burden squarely on taxpayers’ backs? Shouldn’t we demand better planning and fiscal responsibility of our City’s leaders? Why doesn’t the City use Measure LL funds to support a revenue bond, repayable by the City, not the taxpayers? At $2.5-$3M year, those funds could support a $50-60M revenue bond debt. The City’s capital improvement plan allocates $15 million to a proposed community pool. Why is a pool prioritized over undergrounding? 

The City will spend over $240,000 on consultants to push undergrounding and biased surveys. Contrary to the article by Mr Gibbs of Underground Laguna Now, the surveys did not find that the majority of residents strongly supported paying for undergrounding. The surveys “found” what we already know, that we live in a fire threat area. But how does that equate to an imperative to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to underground utility poles?  44 percent of California is in a high fire threat area. Laguna is no different than hundreds of other cities. The ’93 fire was caused by arson, not utility poles, and the cause of the most recent fires in Sonoma and Santa Barbara have not been factually determined. There has never been a major fire in Laguna caused by utility poles.

The City estimates six 1/2 years and around $10 million before construction would even begin on undergrounding. Wireless power already exists, and is developing faster every day for mass scale use. Soon electricity transmission by wires will be obsolete. Why are we spending hundreds of millions to underground a soon to be obsolete method of delivering power?

Last December the CPUC ordered new stricter fire safety measures for electrical distribution systems in high-risk areas, and created a “Fire-Threat Map” where those measures are currently being implemented, including Laguna and Laguna Canyon Road. With these significant new fire prevention measures for utilities, including frequent monitoring and inspection of all utility poles, immediate correction of safety hazards in high fire threat areas, and major new rules for vegetation management, shouldn’t we wait and see if these safety measures work before asking taxpayers to foot the bill to underground utilities? If SC Edison doesn’t comply, wouldn’t there be substantial cause to force SC Edison to underground at its own cost?

Laguna’s urban areas(downtown and residential zones near PCH) are not high risk for widespread utility fires. California has not had an urban conflagration initiate within an urban core area in many decades. Why is the City insisting on undergrounding in these areas using the arbitrary “evacuation route” scare tactic?  No one can predict where a fire may break out, and lower urban routes (like Glenneyre and PCH) are not high risk. Fallen trees, light poles and parked cars obstruct as much as power lines. Ninety percet of all fires are human caused (cigarettes, campfires and arson), followed by lighting and lava.  Electrical transmission fires causing widespread damage are an extremely low percentage of all fires.

Many neighborhoods have already paid thousands to underground, some over $50,000. Why should these residents have to pay for others to do the same thing? Some of these neighborhoods were on so called “evacuation routes.” Many other residents would never use any of the “evacuation routes.” One council member lives on Glenneyre and her view would be greatly improved by undergrounding. Is it fair or equitable to force others to pay for that view?

The $240 median per parcel trumped out to support the undergrounding only applies if your property tax assessment is $600,000. That’s great if you bought your home many years ago, like the city council, whose average assessment is $462,000. Many other residents who bought more recently will pay thousands more. Is this equitable? Who else isn’t paying their “fair share?”

The City paid over $200,000 to put new carpet in City Hall, and has been on a hiring binge over the last three years increasing payroll and pension liabilities. City health insurance is expected to increase by 18 percent. $3 million of new vehicles were purchased in under 3 years, unnecessarily replacing vehicles with low mileage and much useful life. Millions have been spent purchasing real estate that may be desirable, but is not necessary. Shouldn’t we demand responsible spending first before taxpayers are asked to tax themselves and give the City even more? 

Ask questions, get informed.  It’s your money.

Jennifer Welsh Zeiter, local business, tax and estate planning attorney, former President of Laguna Beach Taxpayers Association, co-founder of S.T.O.P, and self-appointed fiscal watchdog.

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In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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