Undergrounding timeline at issue

Six years is too long to get underground utility wires buried, a flabbergasted Councilman Bob Whalen said when he learned the timeline for completion of two areas approved Tuesday.

The council approved initial funding for undergrounding a district area that includes portions of Glenneyre and Agate streets and from 775 to 796 Summit Drive.

"Six years is mindboggling: We have to fix it," Whalen said.

Public Works Director Steve May said some improvements have been made, but the process is still lengthy.

"We share your frustration," City Manager John Pietig said.

Utility companies such as Southern California Edison, Cox Cable and San Diego Gas & Electric prepare their designs sequentially and it's not their top priority, May said.

A project may also be held up by a property owner's inability or refusal to complete the connection from the street to the home.

Whalen expressed an interest in increasing the petitioners' financial contribution to back up the city's upfront costs. Petitioners are those representing at least 60% of the property owners in a proposed utility undergrounding assessment district. They must each sign a petition in favor of the district and are required to pay a $500 cash deposit to offset the city's upfront costs and show their commitment to supporting the district when it comes to a vote.

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson noted that the city was met with some resistance when the council approved the $500 deposit last year.

If an utility undergrounding assessment district fails to get 50% plus one vote, the deposit is forfeited.

Santino Blumetti, a supporter of the district that includes portions of Glenneyre and Agate, said increasing the property owners' upfront costs would probably chill enthusiasm and maybe even kill districts.

The city typically covers the upfront costs with a temporary advance from the General Fund. Upfront costs include assessment engineering, legal and financial services, and electric and telephone utilities' designs. Cox contributes the cost of its designs.

May estimated such costs for a district the size of the Summit Drive proposal at $150,000 to $175,000.

If the district is voted through, the city recovers the costs through the assessments.

Utility undergrounding in the general area of the Summit Drive district was proposed in 2009, but failed by one vote. It cost the city $45,000, May reported. The new boundary eliminates two of the dissenting property owners.

Owners of 10 of the 12 properties within the new boundary signed the petition in favor of the district and submitted deposits.

Only half of the 22 property owners in proposed district 2013-6, the area that includes portions of Glenneyre and Agate, signed the petition.

The utilities companies and city considered both districts viable.


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