Wiring Los Angeles Part 2 – WilCon Takes to the Streets

This is the second part of an interview with Eric Bender, President of Wilshire Connection. In this segment Eric talks about the period in 2000 preceding the Democratic Nation Convention, and the aggressive industry build out of conduit, fiber, and telecommunications infrastructure in the downtown Los Angeles area.

Pacific Tier: At what point do you think the city of Los Angeles figured out this would be a really good thing for LA, and it would bring more business and money into downtown?

Eric Bender: I don’t think they ever came to that conclusion. What happened was in 2000 the Democratic Convention was going to be down at the Staples Center in downtown, so I think it was in early 2000 or at the very end of 1999 the city called a meeting and notified all the telecom carrier that had been active or Eric Bender President Wilshire Connectionbuilding or doing things that as a part of the preparations for the convention that they would be repaving the streets, resurfacing certain streets, and there was going to be an absolute five year moratorium on any digging or street construction work as a result of this. They wanted the streets to look pretty on TV, and that was fine.

So I don’t think they thought about how much money, or how beneficial the telecom network was going to be to the city, they realized they would need to do something for this convention. The result of that was that it threw somewhat of a panic into the carriers that were in the infancy of building out their networks, and building throughout LA, and it forced a massive infrastructure improvement project, because there was a very limited amount of time before the city was going to shut everything down.

I think the convention was in July or August, and by the end of May everything had to be done. So, we really had about four or five months to build everything and our network probably tripled in size during that period of time. We were one of the only companies that had an active permit that we had pulled for a small segment that we were building that hadn’t started construction yet because it was not that critical to us at the time.

But because of us having an active permit for about a two block, few hundred feet, maybe five or six hundred feet of conduit the city realized they had a major problem that these companies had to be building, had to be constructing – they couldn’t just shut them down for five years. The city did understand that was a problem.

So they said you can build, we will expedite and streamline the process and anyone who has an active permit, well everyone can tag along with that permit. We’ll just change it and build out from there.

So, with our little permit, and the little segment, I think it was on Grand from Wilshire down to 7th St., and then a little bit more. We basically parlayed that and built it up to 5th St., then up to Figueroa, and literally tripled our network. So we became the lead builder from that permit on a tremendous amount of other conduit that was built in the city.

Basically they couldn’t keep up with all the activity because there were intersections in downtown LA where there were three backhoes digging for three separate projects. We were doing one, QWEST was doing their own, they didn’t really want to participate much with anyone, and MCI, MFS didn’t want to share conduit so they were doing little things.

And I remember at 7th and Grand there were three different construction crews and project going on at the same time, and for me it was just a wonderful time because we had this permit, so we had a lot of leeway, and I would walk the streets, stand on the street corner, and these other companies, you know Level 3 and QWEST actually did participate, XO… You know I would say “we’re going down this street to this building,” and they’re going “I’m going that way,” and we’d shake hands. “I’m taking two conduits in yours, you’re taking a conduit in mine…”

I don’t like to use the term “wild, wild, west,” but it was really a very wild and fun time. My best times were just walking around with all the construction going on, with all the lane closures and all the activity. The traffic was backed up, cars were beeping, and would be driving by and I would just be standing there looking at the big hole in the ground with a big smile on my face. It really was the best time.

Pacific Tier: Did you have any catastrophic backhoe cuts or anything disruptive during consutruction? 

Eric Bender: We, during our construction our guys, we never had an incident where we hit any other conduit. There was a water or a sewer line that got hit, and nicked, and that was something that that was not actually on the infrastructure plan. And it wasn’t marked on the street so it wasn’t our problem so much.

There was a close call with a gas line. But nothing happened. But for the most part (Eric knocking on his wooden desk) they did a good job.

The toughest part to build, which we were actually the participant in and XO was the lead builder on 7th, I think somewhere between Olive and Grand, it shows you the history of LA but, back when they had the street cars, the RED Line, YELLOW Line, and all these other street cars, they never really demoed (demolished) those out.

They just over the years paved over and over and over. As they were excavating and going down the road, the path where they were going, and which later became obvious because of the railroad, they had to rip through all the railroad ties. It was terrible.

Because of that, then they had to get an archaeologist because you know you have bricks from the support for the railroad, because they are historical. I don’t know what they would do with it, it is in the middle of 7th St (a major road in downtown LA) and Grand Ave, that can’t, you know set up a museum in the middle of it, but it shut the project down. The city had some very peculiar rules that you cannot dig on Sundays that go back to the old blue laws basically, no construction activity on Sundays.

Some streets they won’t let you work during the week, you know it goes back to the days when downtown was a main shopping area, so you know, so you couldn’t dig during the week. You could only dig on Saturdays from nine (a.m.) till three (p.m.) which means you get about from ten till two because you have clean up and everything.

So some projects that should have been done within a week took like eight weeks to get done. So the city tried, but they were not the easiest. The only company that got to work on Sunday was QWEST, because, well, nobody is really sure exactly what happened or how, but they did have several projects where they were working on Sundays.

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This ends part two of the “Wiring LA” interview series. Part Three will explore some of the risks of building such a dense concentration of telecom projects within the downtown LA area.

The entire interview is available online.

Previous entries in this series include:

Part 1 – Wiring Los Angeles, an Interview with Eric Bender, President of Wilshire Connection

 

John Savageau, Long Beach

 

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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