Mission Viejo

                              Should City be in the Wi-Fi Business?

                                                              By Larry Gilbert

Should the city of Mission Viejo get involved in providing wireless Internet service to tenants in one of our strip malls? If so, what added support would be required should we become a “partner”?

 At the October 27 City Council meeting, staff added Agenda item (#12) to offer support of high- speed wireless internet (Wi-Fi) connectivity at one of our original strip malls across the street from our city library. The proposal included a spread sheet of possible charges to the (15-20 interested) users/tenants in the Village Shopping Center based on their projected bandwidth needs.

For years, the City has attempted to get cooperation from the dozen-plus property owners in this Center to modernize their parcels. Council member Ed Sachs was very vocal and frustrated with representatives from COX cable, who basically holds the keys to our City communication, for failing to work with the small businesses after five years of interfacing to install the required infrastructure.

This fight is between the tenants and the property owners. While Mr. Sachs points out possible sales tax leakage (as consumers may not shop in this center due to the lack of Wi-Fi) what is overlooked is that the tenants knew in advance what they are getting from the owners. It's called their leases. If Wi-Fi capability is not included in their lease, that is a factor they should have considered when signing or renewing their leases. I am certain that their lease rate per square foot is likely less than similar parcels in the City and surrounding areas that offer Wi-Fi service.
After hearing from an owner and a few tenants, along with a representative from TelePacific, a potential vendor who identified themselves as having a new agreement with Saddleback Lanes, this council decision was tabled until the first meeting in December. The City proposal is being called a back-up plan as we do not wish to be in the business of providing this technology to the private sector.

 In order to determine whether Wi-Fi was available at the Center in question, we did a "drive-by" with a cell phone. I confirmed that some of those listed as interested parties in the City report already have Wi-Fi including Saddleback Lanes, Moore's Sewing, the Shirt Cannery and It's a Grind. Even Panera Bread located across Marguerite Parkway, has open access. 

We counted around 20 store locations that currently have either "open" or "secure" systems confirming that the capability is present. Michael's, the Party Store, Saddleback Lanes, It's a Grind are all open access. SteinMart, Round Table, Big Lots, Trader Joe's and Zee Pizza plus several others are also connected. The wireless router providers included Net Gear, Verizon and Direct.

As I stated to the City Council during Public Comment, I support well-thought out, cost effective economic development however, singling out one Center in our entire city for an investment of up to $500,000 raises a few questions and concerns;  

1. Do all 24 shopping centers in our City have their own Wi-Fi infrastructure?  

2. Have the Village Plaza owners taken any initiative on their own to accomplish this capability for their tenants? If so, why is the City involved in this effort? 

3. If the City is focused on providing this capability solely to the Village Plaza properties, isn't this a form of favoritism? 

4. As we want the strip mall owner to upgrade their properties, what concessions are we getting from these multiple owners in exchange for this pro-active initiative?

I am hopeful that our elected representatives on the City Council will seriously consider these points before making a decision about how best to spend taxpayer dollars.

Larry Gilbert, a retired electronics industry executive, has lived in Mission Viejo since 1977. He is an elected board member of the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights and is a Mayoral Appointee to the M.V. Oversight Board to the (redevelopment) Successor Agency. 

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