RANCHO SANTA FE — At the Feb. 1 Rancho Santa Fe board of directors meeting, Joe Gabaldon, regional public affairs manager for SDG&E, brought members up to speed on the utility pole replacement project. The purpose for the project is threefold: safety, modernization and technology upgrades. Gabaldon called the $10 million project an investment in the community.
A total of 70 poles will be replaced with steel, 10 of which will be installed via a helicopter due to issues such as terrain.
Despite the explanation, Association board President Fred Wasserman told Gabaldon that he was not happy about the project.
“This has been expressed by most members of the Association,” he said, adding that the preference was undergrounding the utilities.
Wasserman said that he recognized the safety issue and was not challenging that.
“Our displeasure was that there was no discussion or dialogue with the community,” Wasserman said. “It would have been helpful if we had input and consideration.”
He said a combination of undergrounding and steel poles would have been more favorable.
“This is a disheartening experience for this board and community,” he said. “We understand you are well-intentioned, but this is not a great thing for us to experience.”
Currently, SDG&E work crews have a project staging area located on Calzada del Bosque. Work is already ongoing including phase one, which is substation improvements on Via De La Valle. Phase two is pole replacements which are currently underway. The last and final stage, phase three, will be presented to the Association board in the late spring.
Board member Rick Sapp wanted to know how long the helicopters would be hovering for those 10 poles. Gabaldon said the average time per pole was five to seven minutes.
According to Gabaldon, project preparation lasted a couple of years before crews began the work. Covenant residents in attendance also expressed concerns about the large steel poles being placed near in areas deemed state historical landmarks. Undergrounding the utilities would have been more satisfactory, they said.
Gabaldon said that while undergrounding is a costly option, two avenues the Ranch can pursue are through the Rancho Santa Fe Community Services District or the “20A” with San Diego County. In the latter case, the Association would work with the county — and the county would ultimately determine if the Ranch qualified for funding.
Gabaldon said this type of funding was allocated toward cities based on priority, such as fire hazards. One such area is Sill Hill.
“Sill Hill gets consistent winds of over 80 mph winds,” he said, adding how those types of dollars are prioritized for undergrounding utilities. “We don’t want a fire to start there and blow west.”
Wasserman reiterated that there are a lot of Covenant residents unhappy about the project.
“We know you are too far along in your decisions and not interested in what our community has to say,” he said. “Come back to us with a proposal with poles you are not replacing for undergrounding.”