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North Laguna underground utility assessment district moves forward

Telephone poles in an alley between La Brea and Fairview in North Laguna.
Telephone poles in an alley between La Brea and Fairview in North Laguna. Signatures were collected from 57 property owners in a district with 91 parcels to support an utility undergrounding project.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

A neighborhood on the north side of Laguna Beach is taking steps to move its utility lines underground.

The Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to establish a fund and set aside money for the proposed Fairview-La Brea underground utility assessment district.

The city will appropriate $296,500 from its street light and utility fund, which will go toward the cost of assessment engineering and the preparation of bid documents, as well as legal, financial and design services.

There are 91 properties within the district boundaries. From that number, 57 property owners signed a petition to support the proposed undergrounding project.

Laguna Beach’s underground utility assessment district formation policy was established in 2012.
Laguna Beach’s underground utility assessment district formation policy was established in 2012.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Laguna Beach’s underground utility assessment district formation policy, which was established in 2012, requires at least 60% of the affected property owners to petition the city. Cash deposits of $500 must also be made by each of those petitioners.

The deposits, which help offset some of the cost for utility design and assessment engineering, are viewed as a commitment from the neighborhood to support forming the district. The 57 signatures collected represents 62.6% of affected property owners, and the city accepted deposits totaling $28,500 from the petitioners.

Those who addressed the council to support the undergrounding largely pointed to safety as a motivation for the project. Stories were told of downed wires and exploding transformers.

“The benefit is for all of the town …,” resident Mark Gold said. “Eventually, we all hope that more assessment districts will form. We will be an example of other districts and inspire other areas of North Laguna to do the same, which in the end benefits our entire city.”

Undergrounding is a "benefit for all of the town," according to one resident.
Undergrounding is a “benefit for all of the town,” according to one resident.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Concerns brought up by residents about the project included a request for the district boundaries to be remade to include only those properties that expressed interest in the undergrounding plan.

One resident said that he had already paid to be part of an undergrounding district previously.

“I’ve already undergrounded my property in the Hillcrest district,” resident Curt Alderson said. “… I paid a lot of money, and I did my undergrounding — and happy to do it — but now they’ve included me in this new district, and I don’t think it’s fair, so that’s my complaint.

“I’ve already paid over $25,000 to get mine undergrounded, and I don’t think I should have to pay it again.”

According to Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen, the city has a part to play in funding underground utility districts.
According to Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen, the city has a part to play in funding underground utility districts.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Later in the discussion, Tom Perez, a capital program manager for the city, indicated that the cost associated with the undergrounding project for a property owner could, in part, be based on the benefits that came with having nearby utility poles removed.

“Part of the work that the assessment engineer does is he rates each property, so there’s a weighted score for each property,” Perez said.

“So each of those [benefits] — safety, aesthetics and views — will lead to what their overall assessment is, so if there is a reduced impact because say the poles were previously removed on one side, then it typically works out that their assessment would be lower.”

Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen said the city has a part to play in funding underground utility districts.

“There is a contribution the city makes, because the assessment engineer also has to decide, or will decide, whether there is general benefit to certain of these improvements, beyond the special benefit to these properties,” Whalen said. “Typically, there is general benefit, and the city has to pay for that.”

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