Laguna moves toward putting utility undergrounding measures on ballot

The Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday moved closer to its goal of placing one or possibly two measures on the November 2018 ballot regarding undergrounding the city’s utility poles and wires.

Council members unanimously approved paying consultants $242,000 to develop surveys and determine potential costs to residents of placing Laguna’s remaining overhead utilities underground.

Laguna wants to know whether residents would support one or two public votes on undergrounding, and if they would want to help foot the costs.

Another round of wildfires raging in other parts of Southern California cast a reminder that a spark from a downed power line or pole could be the fuel that ignites a blaze in Laguna.

Councilman Bob Whalen reiterated his stance that undergrounding be the city’s top priority.

“Given the public safety threat, we have an obligation,” Whalen said. “We should pursue [one or more ballot measures].”

In addition to fire, downed power poles can block first responders from getting to an emergency, endanger people and cause damage to cars and houses, said Bob Elster, a 19-year Laguna resident and vice chairman of the city’s Emergency Disaster Preparedness Committee.

“You need to think about earthquakes knocking down power poles in great numbers,” Elster said.

Elster suggested the city be specific when it crafts surveys and suggested Laguna conduct more than 500 interviews to yield a more representative sample.

“It’s not only a way to catch the tenor of the community, but more importantly, it’s used from an educational standpoint,” Elster said. “If you’re asking people about things, you have to explain to them what they are to respond to.”

Mayor Kelly Boyd said he wants the city to inform residents that if they already paid for undergrounding in their neighborhoods, they would not be taxed to fund another neighborhood that still has overhead poles and wires.

But, all residents could contribute funds to undergrounding utilities along the city’s major evacuation routes such as Laguna Canyon Road and South and North Coast Highway, as the city considers the roads as serving the general community.

A general obligation bond would pay for undergrounding along the evacuation routes while a community facilities district would pay for undergrounding in neighborhoods that still have overhead power lines, according to a staff report.

The city will conduct surveys in January and report back to the council in February.

Kelly Boyd appointed as mayor

For the third time, Kelly Boyd will be Laguna’s mayor.

Council members on Tuesday appointed Boyd, a lifelong Laguna resident who owned the Marine Room Tavern for 25 years, to the one-year post.

Toni Iseman served as mayor last year. Council members appointed Robert Zur Schmiede as mayor pro tem.

Every December the five-member council selects a mayor from its ranks.

Boyd served two prior terms as mayor: December 2008 to December 2009 and December 2012 to December 2013.

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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