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City talks utilties, social media

SOLANA BEACH — With the first day of autumn a day away, City Council did some “fall cleaning” at the Sept. 22 meeting, updating or creating laws that address utility undergrounding, the city seal and a social media policy.
Solana Beach residents have completed three community-based utility undergrounding districts: Marsolan, Pacific and Barbara/Granados. Although considered successful, all presented elements staff recommended revising to ensure a more efficient process that will protect city finances with future projects.
Based on experience from the completed districts, the estimated cost per property is $20,000. But that information is not included in the initial petition that must be signed by 70 percent of the proposed assessment district in order to begin the process.
“This (approval) may be relatively easy to obtain if there are no estimated costs included in the petition,” the staff report states.
If the project gets the green light from 70 percent of the district, the utilities then provide an estimate that requires approval from only 60 percent of the district.
Staff recommended, and council members agreed, to add the estimated $20,000 per property cost to the initial petition and change the second petition vote requirement to 70 percent for consistency.
Informing property owners of the estimated costs before they vote on the initial petition will increase the likelihood that the second petition will pass. According to the staff report, it will also remove some of the “surprise that may occur when property owners discover what they will have to pay after approving the initial petition.”
Council also approved staff recommendations to create a tiered deposit structure based on the number of homes in the district and add a final voting requirement of 60 percent of the total parcels in addition to the current mandate of 50 percent of the weighted vote.
Council members also amended the municipal code so penalties can now be imposed for unauthorized use of the city seal.
Improper use of either one of the city’s two seals “would be detrimental to the reputation and goodwill of the city,” the staff report states. Although such things as logos and slogans can be trademarked, state and federal laws exempt city seals or flags from being registered as such.
Staff members said there have been “minor issues” of people or organizations using the seal without permission but there was no way to impose penalties. Violators will now be subject to fines.
Finally, council agreed to adopt a policy for using social media tools such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to disseminate information from and about the city.
Using social media sites can help the city reach community members who aren’t currently following local government actions.
“I think it’s important to do this because I think it’s the way a lot of people communicate,” Councilman Mike Nichols said. “Synergistically it creates this affect of involvement.”
Residents will be able to see other people who are interested in a project. If it is someone they know, it may prompt them to become involved, Nichols said.
Council members expressed some concern about increased staff time to monitor the information, but Mayor Tom Campbell said if they weren’t going to allow for more staff time, they shouldn’t bother pursuing it.
Because of First Amendment rights and laws such as the Brown Act that govern city actions, using social websites for official city purposes can present unique legal issues. So council members agreed to move forward “in baby steps” and revisit the results in a year.