DEL MAR — The city took a major step this week after appropriating over $1 million in funds toward a citywide utility undergrounding project that has been in the works since 2016.
The Del Mar City Council allocated the funds for two undergrounding districts, which started design work immediately following the unanimous vote of the council.
District X1A covers the area of Crest Canyon and approximately 11,200 linear feet of overhead conversion to underground, including 152 parcels and 114 private buildings and received an allocation of $694,485 for pre-construction costs.
This area is considered a high wildfire risk zone and was therefore deemed a priority for citywide undergrounding.
“It means benefits public safety, getting the utility wires out of the way for wildfire rescue. And it also means property value increases and beautification for the city of Del Mar,” Mayor Terry Gaasterland told The Coast News. “Wires overhead are never pretty. The birds are going to have to find someplace else to sit but it’s going to really make a difference.”
District 1A encompasses Stratford Court South and includes approximately 7,650 lineal feet of overhead utility lines for undergrounding from 4th Street to 12th Street and includes 227 parcels and 214 private buildings. Its allocation totaled $555,900 for pre-construction for a total of $1,250,385 for the two undergrounding districts.
The design process is expected to take 18-24 months followed by a bid process for a contractor. Construction will then take another 18 months to complete meaning the areas will be expected to be finished with the project by late 2024 or early 2025.
Some residents expressed concern that the X1A District does not encompass enough of the Canyon Crest area to be effective for public safety.
Joseph Calabro, a resident living on Avenida Primavera wrote to the city asking they expand the district.
“Unfortunately, X1A is missing a key safety element: a safe access route with no overhead power lines for Del Mar firefighters to reach the north rim of Crest Canyon from Camino del Mar. The solution would be to underground the 8 remaining poles on Avenida Primavera,” Calabro wrote.
Councilmember Dan Quirk said that while the plan is for the entire city to be undergrounded, the districts did have to be cut off somewhere.
“What’s presented has a lot of logic and a lot of time put into it,” Quirk said. “I say that with all sympathy to those who called in and wrote in.
The allocations for pre-construction costs come from the Measure Q fund established after a one-cent sales tax increase was approved by the city in 2016.
“Measure Q actually doubled our sales tax revenue to the city and so what’s happened is that in a good year we get about $3 million of extra revenue and we’ve been using that judiciously and also saving it up,” Mayor Terry Gaasterland told The Coast News.
Gaasterland says the Measure Q fund will still have several million dollars remaining following the allocation of funds this week.
There still will be costs to cover as the project moves forward
“I want to see some assurance that we’re going to be able to pay for all of this in a way that is comfortable,” Deputy Mayor Dwight Worden said during council discussions on the topic this week. “The worst-case scenario is we get back numbers after we do these test projects that we’re not actually going to be able to underground the whole city. And I really don’t want to see that happen.”
Worden added he does not think that is likely, but it is not out of the question that the city is unable to financially cover the undergrounding of the rest of Del Mar.
The total estimated costs of districts X1A and 1A, including the already allocated funds, are $5,066,416 and $3,553,945 respectively.