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Law firm consulted on pole project

The Rancho Santa Fe Association and its board have made crystal clear their disappointment about SDG&E propelling forward in replacing 120 wood utility poles to fire-resistant steel. The Association wanted to be involved in the project and made its wishes for underground utilities versus overhead known.

In the initial phase, a total of 70 poles were replaced. 

At the April 5 meeting Association Manager Christy Whalen updated the board on a meeting she had with a law firm since many in the Covenant opposed the overhead utility project.    

“As you all learned in March, we met with a law firm that specializes in utilities and what our options are with the pole installation with SDG&E,” she said. “We learned SDG&E had done the property permitting and the Covenant’s historical designation didn’t have an impact. The attorneys indicated a lawsuit may be counterproductive.”

Whalen told the board and Covenant residents that the Association would be in communication with SDG&E about future projects for possible undergrounding of lines as opposed to above ground utilities. She also noted the Association would like to do an inventory of abandoned poles. which may number more than 2,000.

“The Association wants to set up a meeting with SDG&E to identify the abandoned poles and getting those lines transferred as soon as possible, and to get the old poles out,” said Whalen, adding an example of these lines could be phone lines.

In late March, SDG&E completed its helicopter operations during the day. Of the first 70 steel poles installed, which have a system conversion of 4kV to 12kV, 10 of those poles were installed via helicopter due to various reasons such as terrain. Whalen shared that SDG&E did not keep to their estimate on the power outage timeframe.

It was estimated that 130 homes were without power.

“A total of 30 homes had to evacuate due to FAA regulations. Many members were inconvenienced,” Whalen said. “Some Covenant residents did not get their electricity back on until midnight. The Association was not satisfied with how we were updated on this project.”

That said, Whalen said she wanted to ensure the community’s interests were in the forefront in future utility projects.

Board President Fred Wasserman described the situation as frustrating for both the board and staff. He called it almost impossible to solve in the short term.

In the next phase of this project, 50 more wood poles would be swapped out to steel, with several poles installations done by helicopter.

“This is not a simple process, and I wish I had good news for you, but I don’t,” Wasserman said. “This is a difficult problem.”