Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Los Angeles: Third World City

Some years back, I worked for a company that built digital loop carriers. A loop carrier is a type of telephone company transmission equipment that bundles the signal from dozens to thousands of phone lines, combines it into a single single, and then transmits it over either a copper cable or a fiber optics cable. Among the odd little products we sold was a wireless loop carrier known as Airspan. Instead of multiplexing dozens of signals together and sending them over a chunk of wire, they were sent as radio signals to a receiver that captured them, then demultiplexed them into individual signals.

What was the attraction of a wireless system? At the time, much of the demand for Airspan was in the Third World because copper cables (even buried ones), got stolen. People who are poor, with plenty of time on their hands, would repeatedly steal the copper telephone cabling. Hence, Airspan--no copper to steal! But fortunately, only in a Third World country would you find people with enough poverty, ambition, and contempt for property, to do something like this. (Americans with that much poverty and contempt for property usually aren't that ambitious.)

Then I heard about a stretch of freeway in Florida that was starting to have problems with thieves stealing the wiring for the streetlighting--and after enough thefts, the government just gave up, and decided to leave it dark.

Now I see this depressing December 5, 2007 Los Angeles Times article:
Thieves have disabled about 700 streetlights in Los Angeles, making off with 370,000 feet of valuable copper wiring over the last four months.

L.A. officials said it is a twist on copper thefts that have plagued new home sites and even some office buildings in the last few years.

With some lights pilfered during the summer still out, city officials Tuesday expressed concerns about the safety of passing drivers, pedestrians and bikers. The Los Angeles Public Works Department has already spent nearly $1 million repairing the lights.

"When we have to go out and replace that wire, it takes away from other city services," said Public Works Commissioner Cynthia Ruiz at a news conference on a downtown street corner near samples of copper streetlight wire. "If I had an extra million dollars I could put 10 graffiti crews on the streets."

Among the hardest hit areas are Boyle Heights, the east San Fernando Valley and Wilmington, as well as a three-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River Bike Path between Los Feliz Boulevard and the L.A. Zoo. Police in other cities, including San Bernardino, Redlands, San Jose, San Francisco and Pasadena, are struggling with a similar spate of streetlight wire thefts.

Some large blocks in the Eastside have not had street lighting since August. At the corner of 12th and Soto streets Tuesday, Mary Rivera worked in darkness loading furniture she had just bought from a warehouse store into her truck.

"When you don't have light in the streets you can have an accident, especially when you have people who are drinking liquor and walking in the street," Rivera said.
Now, I'm all for dark skies, but even without streetlights, Los Angeles is in no danger of being a dark sky location--not even close. And while I think much of America is irrational in its desire to set the sky aglow based on crime, Los Angeles may have a legitimate basis for these fears. It is a pretty bad sign about the Third Worldization of Los Angeles, however.

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