They started showing up on a few front lawns last summer. Now they are all over Cerritos.
Tom Hong, who lives on the west side, came home from work and found one sitting at the foot of his Canary Island pine. No note, no explanation, no nothing. "Yeah, a big thing like that in front of the house," Hong said, still stunned by the discovery.
The same thing happened to John Wyckaert over on Andy Street. "There it was," Wyckaert said, recalling how he came home and found one hunkered down in the pink geranium ground cover. Wyckaert says he has resigned himself to the indignity.
Gabe Velez on Agnes Street is not adjusting so well. "If I give you 20 bucks, will you blow it up for me?" he asked.
Velez has been a resident 18 years in a community so comfortable with control that it even regulates the exterior color of its houses. What has him thinking like an anarchist?
A small brown, squat box that showed up one day in front of his house. Like ubiquitous toadstools, the boxes are spreading across the city, following the path of Apollo CableVision Inc. as it wires neighborhoods for HBO, CNN, ESPN, FNN and the like.
The mini-equipment vaults, planted every few houses or so in the city-owned strip of land between the sidewalk and the curb, are a city-approved exception to the mandate that all the cable equipment be placed underground.
And the boxes know no favorites.
'Zero Plans to Get Cable'
"I have zero plans to get cable," said Velez who, of all the people on his block, got the box. Hong says he is not planning to subscribe either. Ditto for Wyckaert.
His neighbors a street away, Jerry and Margaret Williams and their two sons, have television sets upstairs and downstairs and the whole family is happy it finally has cable, Margaret Williams said.
The box out front, though, is another matter.
In Cerritos, houses must be painted in earth tones, so the city turned its nose up at the box maker's usual light green or beige models and demanded a specially designed brown box.
Margaret Williams is not impressed by designer labels. "I think it's real ugly," she said.
Some people have suggested that the boxes, which measure about 17 by 30 inches, have rounded corners and look like oversized loaves of Wonder Bread. One woman suggested that they look like cages--the kind airlines give to passengers who take cats instead of kids with them when they go on vacation.
"Initially," said the still-distraught Velez, "I was thinking I'd take a sledgehammer to it, but I looked at that thing and it (a hammer) wouldn't dent it."
The boxes are made of strong plastic and are bolted down to cover the equipment that is connected to the cables underground.
By December, when Apollo finishes making potential cable customers out of all 16,000 residences in Cerritos, about 1,000 homeowners will be saddled with the boxes.
Didn't Know Size of Boxes
"The feeling in the community," said Gloria Reid, whose box is dwarfed by the juniper bushes in front of her Sequoia Avenue home, "was that nobody told them it was going to be this big ."
City officials and cable representatives say flyers were passed out in neighborhoods to alert residents that the cable system was approaching. People were told, they say, that the boxes, which cover up equipment that boosts the television signal along its route, would be placed on some front lawns.
When the boxes first started appearing, said Michele Wastal, the city's public information officer, some residents called City Hall and said: "You will not put one on my property."
40 Complaints Received
Wastal said she gently reminded callers that the strip of land between the sidewalk and the curb belongs to the city. In all, the city has received about 40 complaints, and yes, Wastal said, a few people did shout at her.
Velez finds it hard to believe that only 40 people have complained. "That's the biggest darn thing I've ever seen," he said.
Michael L. Corbin, general manager of Apollo, said the above-ground equipment is necessary because putting it underground would expose it to occasional water damage. He said, too, that his workers went to great lengths to place the boxes in the least visible spots. That might mean under a bush, he said, or on a property line that cannot be seen from a home's front window.
The only thing workers would not do, Corbin said, is agree to put the box in front of a neighbor's house. If they did that, he said, "the last guy on the line would probably have a stack a mile high on his property."
Corbin insists that the placement of the boxes is determined by engineering, not personal considerations.
But Velez is unmoved. "I'm going to plant an oak tree or a cactus around it, something that has roots that will go down and eat that thing," he said.