Del Mar utility line plan moves forward

Undergrounding project will go to districtwide vote

Despite pleas from the majority of an overflow crowd Tuesday night to drop the North Hills undergrounding project entirely, a shorthanded Del Mar City Council decided unanimously in a special meeting to move forward and let district homeowners vote on the issue.

Residents will consider a plan to move the neighborhood’s overhead utility lines underground. Each homeowner in the district would have to pay a share of the cost, estimated at $7.5 million. The city used a formula to compute the contribution for each parcel based on perceived benefits and property value boosts from the construction.

Of the nearly 40 Del Mar residents who spoke, many were against the project. They said they are retired, living on a fixed income and dealing with the rising cost of healthcare.

“I do feel it’s an inappropriate way to spend money at this time and day and age,” said Margaret Higgins, who would owe $30,000 if the measure passes.

Those in favor say the benefits outweigh the costs.

“It will result in reduced fire hazards, increased property values, fewer power outages, lower (homeowners) insurance costs and enhanced aesthetics for our tree-lined streets,” said Ken Paulovich, a member of the Del Mar Underground Project committee.

A public hearing was set for April 19. The city will collect weighted ballots from North Hills residents in the preceding 45 days. The more money a parcel owes, the more weight it will carry in its yes or no tally.

There are 321 homes in the North Hills district, with a little more than half with an undergrounding share assessed at between $15,000 and $25,000.

If a simple majority exists after the vote, the council would have the authority to approve the district. However, the governing body said it would most likely hold the project to a higher percentage standard due to its financial implications. The Ocean View/Pines undergrounding project passed with a 77 percent majority in 2006.

If approved, residents would have a 50-day grace period to pay off some or all of their assessment with a 10 percent discount. Any remaining total would go to a 30-year bond to be part of their property tax bill. The interest rates will not be known until the time comes to put the lien on the home, but initial estimates are between 6.5 and 7 percent.

If a homeowner does not pay, Del Mar would have the authority to foreclose on the property. The city also owns seven parcels in the North Hills district and has votes in the measure.

Only Mayor Richard Earnest and councilmembers Crystal Crawford and Marc Filanc heard testimony. Filanc and Deputy Mayor Donald Mosier both own property in the North Hills district, so under law only one of them could be a decision-maker. Councilman Carl Hilliard, away for the month, was also ineligible to vote.

While most of the roughly 40 public speakers were opposed to undergrounding, a majority of the 66 letters the city received supported the measure.

Speaking after the two-hour public comment period, Crawford said: “You’re a very strong sampling, of course, from the community, but you’re not everybody in the neighborhood.”

Related posts:

  1. Estimates for utility project ‘floor’ Del Mar North Hills residents
  2. Council clears up utility project details
  3. Utility proposal worries some
  4. Some say power line formula is flawed
  5. Highway 101 plan moves forward

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