Council OKs utility undergrounding task force

Council OKs utility undergrounding task force
A project team is being assembled to coordinate a plan to underground nearly all remaining utility poles in Del Mar using funds from a sales tax increase approved by voters last year. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

DEL MAR — With plans to fund utility undergrounding using some of the revenue created by a 1 percent sales tax increase, council members at the Dec. 4 meeting approved the creation of a project team to help guide the process.

According to guidelines developed by Councilman Terry Sinnott, a former San Diego Gas & Electric Co. employee, the group will include a project manager, neighborhood representatives, an advisory committee, staff members, utility experts and two council liaisons.

The project manager will be either a city staff member or a consultant or other contract employee who will be the lead on all aspects of the project.

The committee will make recommendations to help move the project forward and ensure goals are met. The proposed five-member group will work with the entire team on organizing and completing tasks and evaluating the ongoing progress.

As each neighborhood or zone is scheduled for conversion, a resident or property owner should be selected to attend team meetings and act as a liaison to update and communicate to neighbors.

The team will also include representatives from the city manager’s office, city attorney’s office and public works and finance departments.

Utility consultants will prepare the implementation plan with staff for review by the project team, provide a third-party critique of utility system design and costs and propose alternate designs that can reduce costs without sacrificing quality.

Additional project team goals include ensuring that work is coordinated to provide the least amount of disruption to neighborhoods, costs to the city are kept to a minimum and the quality of underground systems is equal to or better than the existing overhead systems.

Key tasks include educating residents about costs, scheduling, the conversion process, benefits and how service runs from the street to their property will be constructed.

The project team will also create a policy recommendation on how to help residents finance the latter, which is the responsibility of the property owners, and present it to City Council for adoption.

Members will evaluate the issue of reimbursing property owners who have already paid out of pocket to underground utilities near their homes.

“The answer may be that we cannot do anything, but this issue needs to be thoroughly explored,” Sinnott stated in his recommended work plan.

The Finance Committee suggested the sales tax increase as a way to fund a proposed citywide utility undergrounding project.

Measure Q, as the ballot initiative was called, was approved by voters in the November 2016 election to help pay for undergrounding, other infrastructure projects and general city services such as improving streets, sidewalks, parks, trails and recreation facilities, public landscaping, beach maintenance, crime prevention and fire protection.

Earlier this year council members created an oversight committee to review the revenue and expenditures related to the use of funds from Measure Q.

To avoid conflicts of interest, members of that committee will not be allowed to concurrently serve on the utility undergrounding project team.

The citywide undergrounding is estimated to cost $18 million and take between five and 10 years to complete. Mayor Dwight Worden noted that the project may not technically be citywide, however, because some poles may be too costly to bury.

Sinnott and Councilwoman Ellie Haviland were appointed to serve as the two council liaisons.

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