From the Other Publisher: Connectivity Problems

Karen Portugal York

I live in one of the most affluent communities in the world. Why am I connectivity challenged? 

Those of us who live and work in Malibu will be rendered silent when Southern California Edison determines that the fire risk, with the Santa Ana winds blowing, is high enough that it can cut all electricity to Malibu. I am sitting here at 4:40 p.m. on Monday afternoon and have been without electricity (thankful for a laptop with a battery), and therefore, without a phone (landline or cell phone), messaging and internet service, and email since noon. They tell me it’s not a SCE shut-off this time, but equipment failure due to heavy winds. But, lesson learned. 


Fortunately, I am not medically dependent on electricity, so while I express my concern, I am aware that others may find themselves in serious trouble.  Yet, for those of us whose livelihoods and family communications are now almost entirely dependent on electricity and connectivity, this is also our crisis. 

If Edison’s policy of shutting down our electricity is truly the best way to reduce fire risk in Malibu, then we must find a way of mitigating its dangers and disruptions. For some of us, this may be the purchase of a generator. (One for each residence and business in Malibu?) However, considering the purchase of a generator should not be taken lightly. First, there is the cost of the generator itself—upwards of $5,000. Then there is the installation cost. Then there is the cost of any modifications to your structure or yard. Then there is the cost of a propane option (considered most efficient and reliable when our gas utilities are also shut off, and when diesel fuel needs regular replacement). And then, there are permit costs from the City of Malibu—estimated at $2,500 or so. A small business can expect to pay around $13,000-$15,000 when all is said and done.* Perhaps it is time for the City Council to acknowledge that hosting fire safety programs, while important and informative, is not the only way to address our disaster-prone environment. 

Perhaps we should be considering ways to provide our own electricity. There are several small cities throughout the U.S. that have created their own solar farms and become energy independent (and clean!). Certainly a wealthy, environmentally friendly city like ours can do the same, and I, for one, would rather pay for that on my property tax bill than for a generator.  At a minimum, the City Council should consider reducing the cost of the generator permit fees, offering grants or loans or cancelling them altogether.   

OK, so much for my electronic communication issues. What about the USPS? Yes, our once efficient and reliable old United States Postal Service. Several times this year, I have received my snail mail 10 days after it was mailed (and most of it was in-state mail). I have also sent mail to in-state addresses that were received 10 days after I mailed them. Recently, I sent a package using USPS Priority Mail from the Malibu Post Office to a Malibu address. It arrived seven days later!  When I complained, our local postwoman responded that priority mail (at a substantial up-cost) guarantees the package will be delivered, but not when it will be delivered. Still, seven days to go 15 miles? OK, you’re right, I should have driven it over myself. 

I just read that the USPS is asking for an additional five cents per general delivery stamp, bringing the cost up to 55 cents each. I fear that the raise will only serve to subsidize what appears to me to be an inefficient and dated system. Given the fact that lots of personal and business communications are sent via email and through the Internet, it may be time to re-engineer the USPS so that our snail mail and packages arrive at their destination in a timely, cost-efficient manner. 

So, what am I whining about? I guess it’s the fact that I have become increasingly impatient with governmental institutions lacking the insight, initiative and courage to make the changes required to serve today’s constituents creatively with today’s technology.  So ask your current City Council members and City Council candidates, just because we’ve never considered municipally provided solar power for Malibu—why not?  And while I’m dreaming—how about undergrounding our utility lines at the same time. 

Let’s get off the grid and into the 21st century.

*I have been told that the investment in a generator can be paid over time on your property tax bill using the state’s financial assistance PACE program. Caution is advised, however, as not all PACE program providers enjoy the best reputation—buyer beware!