Del Mar utilities going ‘down’

DEL MAR — It will likely be at least two years before the final pole comes down, but progress is being made to underground utility lines in the North Hills and Sunset areas of Del Mar.
City Council voted unanimously at the April 20 meeting to proceed with North Hills as one district rather than three, as had been considered. Council members also authorized a contract to stake the transformers and approved a voting and construction schedule.
The city established the undergrounding of utility poles as a high priority in 2002. Four years later, about 35 poles were removed in the Ocean View/Pines district, which includes about 80 homes.
The North Hills area, which includes 322 parcels east of Camino del Mar between Serpentine Drive and Eighth Street, was originally being considered as one assessment district. Because of its size, residents discussed dividing it into three. The final staff recommendation was to treat it as one district with construction phased over three areas because that option offered more flexibility and financial benefits.
Before the vote, council members participated in a process that was believed to be a first in Del Mar. Because Councilmen Carl Hilliard, Don Mosier and Mark Filanc each own property in the North Hills district, conflict-of-interest rules disqualified them from participating in discussions for the area. That left only two eligible council members, but three votes are needed to take action on any item.
Using the rule of necessity that allows a disqualified member to participate, the three councilmen drew straws to determine who would remain in the discussions. Mosier was the winner after selecting the longest straw. Because he, Mayor Crystal Crawford and Councilman Richard Earnest voted to consider North Hills one district, another rule allowed their colleagues to return for the remaining discussion.
The design for the districts has taken longer than expected because of the narrow, winding streets. With that process nearly complete, the next major step is obtaining construction bids. Once a contractor is selected — it could be two different contractors or the same for both districts — trenching will begin. When that is complete, residents can begin any necessary prvate conversions, such as updating meter boxes or running additional conduit. When all private conversions are done, the utility company will pull all wires and remove the poles.
Carmen Kasner, city engineer, said pole removal will occur on an area-by-area basis. If private conversions in phase two are done before phase one, poles will be removed in phase two first.
“Even one property owner can hold up the process,” said Kasner, who encouraged residents to use licensed contractors. She said some homeowners in the Ocean View/Pines district did not and it slowed things downs. “Don’t rely on your gardener,” she said.
Construction will begin in area one of North Hills and proceed south into areas two and three. When work is far enough along in North Hills area one, and safe and clear access is assured, construction will begin in Sunset.
“Work on Sunset will have no impact on the progress of North Hills,” Kasner said.
Residents must also vote on whether to form the assessment districts. Ballots should be mailed to North Hills residents in mid-October. Ballots in the Sunset district, which includes 148 parcels north of Serpentine and east of Camino del Mar, will go out in February 2010. Ballots will be due back within 45 days of the mailing date.
The staggered voting schedule will allow the city clerk’s office to better manage the process.
When the project is complete, approximately 25 percent of all households in the city will have underground utility wires.
“That’s a huge undertaking,” resident Sharon Hilliard said. “It’s also one that’s very important. If you look at the fire map, we’re taking 98 percent of the (wild land) urban interface, which is basically the direction the fire is going to come, and we’re undergrounding all those poles. So we’re going to be a much safer city when Sunset and North Hills are completed.”

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