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Undergrounding: an urban legend?

Thursday January 10, 2002


Is it my aging memory, or is it at this point just a fading urban legend that recounts the story whereby the city of Berkeley passed a bond issue in the ’60s to accomplish the complete undergrounding of utilities throughout the city? The sad tale goes that soon after passage the bond money lay dormant while antagonistic neighborhood groups squabbled over whom should be the first to benefit.  

Resulting delays amounted to years; resulting escalation in project costs made the bond money inadequate for the task, and so the question became even more contentious: who would get undergrounding and who would not? Could the few residential streets that we see with underground utilities be the result of a wonderful vision undermined? 

If anyone has doubts about the benefits of undergrounding (beyond the obvious opportunity to control the electromagnetic fields surrounding power lines, which some epidemiologists suggest are linked to increased incidences of childhood leukemia) take this tour: to settle the aesthetic question simply drive west on Alcatraz Avenue from Telegraph on down, and imagine the absence of the wires.  

The view to (gasp!) Alcatraz Island would be tremendous. Streets without such grand views would benefit hugely as well.  

For another example of the safety issue, take a look at the wooden telephone pole at the southwest corner of Rose and Josephine Streets; I shudder to think what would happen if a car were to clip the single 4 x 4 wooden post that is holding this entire mess up. 

Urban Legend? 


Gary Parsons