Laguna Beach gets OK to move forward with Diamond Street underground utility district

Power lines in the Diamond Crestview neighborhood in Laguna Beach.
Power lines in the Diamond Crestview neighborhood in Laguna Beach. Property owners voted in favor of undergrounding utilities in the Diamond Street district on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Laguna Beach will be moving forward with an underground utility district in the Diamond Crestview neighborhood after the project received a stamp of approval from the assessed property owners.

The Laguna Beach City Council had postponed a vote on the underground utility assessment district in October after residents within the proposed district asked the city to increase its contribution to the project.

Subsequently, a revised engineer’s report was prepared in November that reduced the total assessment amount by $212,930. That resulted in a decrease of about 10% for the individual assessments for the 20 properties that lie within the district.

At the City Council meeting on Tuesday, city staff reported the results of the vote. Eighteen of the 20 possible ballots were cast, with 11 of the submitted ballots voting in favor of the project, a 60.3% weighted majority based on the assessment values, as reported by Pierre Sawaya, the project manager.

“That’s great news, I think, for the property owners that have been working on this for so long,” Mayor Bob Whalen said.

Had the vote not yielded a weighted majority for the project, it would have been abandoned for lack of majority support.

The Laguna Beach City Council directed city staff to return with a plan to reduce the total assessments for the 20 property owners within the proposed district.

The city will enter into a $1.32-million contract with Hot Line Construction to carry out the project.

The project will see eight utility poles and over 1,000 linear feet of overhead wires removed, Sawaya said. The assessments on the properties, along with a city contribution of $204,001 from the street lighting and utility fund, will pay for it.

Additionally, the council authorized the city manager to approve project-related expenses and construction change orders for unforeseen circumstances up to $133,000.

Matt Lawson, a member of the city’s emergency disaster preparedness committee, said that Diamond Crestview, along with Bluebird Canyon and Canyon Acres, are among the most access-impaired neighborhoods in the city.

“They’re extremely dangerous, tip of the spear from the standpoint of fire risk,” Lawson said. “This is extremely important from the standpoint of public safety, not only for the local neighborhood but for the entire city, because the fire that starts in Woods Cove or down in Crestview doesn’t necessarily stay there.”

The average assessment among the 20 properties in the Diamond Street district is $96,858. Among those properties, 11 were assigned an assessment in excess of $100,000.

One resident who stated they reside within a proposed underground utility assessment district at Woods Cove urged those within the assessment districts to vote against the projects.

“It’s appalling that 50% of the property owners in Diamond Crestview can put a $100,000 tax burden on their neighbors,” J.T. Price, the concerned resident, said. “… If we have a public safety issue citywide, we need to address it citywide, and stop putting this huge burden on individual property owners.”

To ease the annual financial burden on the property owners, Kevin Johnson, a resident who helped lead the effort in support of the district, asked that the council direct staff to explore options for long-term bonds of 25 to 30 years. The council obliged.

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