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Shoes on wire: Urban legend or nuisance?

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Public safety

Shoes on wire: Urban legend or nuisance?

City officials from across the country say 'both'

  • What do these mean? City officials don't care.
    monicam├╝ller/FlickrWhat do these mean? City officials don't care.

We've all seen shoes dangling from over power lines and wondered what, if anything, they signify. But Long Beach doesn't care, it just wants them gone.

On Saturday the Los Angeles Times reported that Long Beach officials are tied in knots over the problem and requested a system to have shoes removed within 72 hours of being reported. That got tongues wagging.

"It's nothing but a blight. Look what it does to community, to property values," said Councilman Dee Andrews, who sponsored the motion. "If you see one tennis shoe hanging off a wire and you don't do anything about it, you're going to see another, and another, and you're opening up the floodgates."

But who has the sole responsibility to remove them?

At least four utilities -- including Southern California Edison, Verizon and Charter Communications -- are responsible for removing shoes from both the low-hanging, thick-coated telephone and cable wires and the high-strung power lines.

But when one company is called, officials say, they won't touch any shoes on another firm's wires. So the shoes can hang around for weeks, months, even years.

That's ridiculous, said Trace Fukuhara, 60.

"It's petty, and no one wants to take responsibility," he said. "Just hire a contractor with a scissor lift and keep cutting them down until there are no more. They'll stop."

For generations people have tried to untangle a deeper meaning to the phenomenon.

Is there a crack house nearby? Has a gang member been killed? Has a Scotsman just lost his virginity? Or is it just an adolescent prank?

David Emory of looked for answers, but didn't have much luck either.

An Associated Press story out of Tucson hoisted up the conventional wisdom that dangling sneakers are an emblem of gang activity then knocked it down with a quote from the police: "This is another kind of urban myth," a spokesman said. Like law enforcement officials everywhere else, Tucson police have found no correlation between dangling sneakers and crime.

Tucson Electric Power officials added that in any given week, 5 to 10 pairs of sneakers are removed from power lines all over Tucson: "The highest periods of activity seem to be after school lets out for the summer break," as well as holidays.

Some Chicago residents say that if the shoes ever had a nefarious origin, that's probably gone, reported the Chicago Tribune.

"They grab them, tie them up and throw them," said Julio Diaz, 34, as high-tops dangled over his head in (the city's) Humboldt Park. "It's like an old-school habit."

But while the meaning may now be harmless, the consequences are not, said Peter Pedraza with the Chicago-area Commonwealth Edison Co.

"In a rainstorm, the sneakers could become wet and add actual weight to the line. This could cause the line to sag, lower its clearance and increase its chance of coming into contact with another object."

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