Undergrounding questions remain
Officials offer answers on votes, insurance and assessments
With both the North Hills and Sunset undergrounding districts approved to go to a ballot measure, it turns out there are a few landowners who will be unable to vote no.
Some fine print in the city’s Design Review Board policies mandate that anyone who gets certain types of projects approved is ineligible to oppose the formation of an undergrounding assessment district. In essence, a landowner subject to this condition can either vote yes, or not vote at all. City staff reports 11 out of the 321 homes in the North Hills district are under this condition. However, there are none in the Sunset district.
“There’s no hidden agenda here or anything of that nature,” Del Mar interim Planning Director Brian Mooney said. “Basically, it is a condition of approval on the permit to rebuild your house or to somehow change your house that you won’t oppose a future undergrounding project within the immediate area.”
Mooney said the earliest trace of this covenant is found in a 1983 development review permit. He also said several were agreed to in the early 2000s by flippers, who built the homes with the intention of selling them for profits.
Assistant City Manager Mark Delin said Del Mar would likely indicate on its master list for ballot computation which parcels could not vote no. Those that do would not be counted in the final tally.
Insurance questions answered
While proponents of the undergrounding district maintain that taking the utility poles underground is a major fire safety enhancement, it will not necessarily be reflected in homeowner’s insurance rates. A State Farm representative said the company does not lower costs based on undergrounded utility poles.
“We’re not aware of any increased exposure to losses of any kind associated with proximity of a home to the power lines either above or below the ground,” public affairs specialist Mike Rossman said. “Our current rating structure does not take into account the location or proximity of power lines when developing a rate for a home.”
Greg Fehr of the Sunset Underground Project Committee said the fact that insurance rates may not go down does not change that the project eliminates certain risks.
“I would just comment that fire safety in general is an important issue and there should be many things done as a community to continue to make improvements on fire safety,” he said. “I think it only takes one time, and we’ve seen some examples lately.”
Former Del Mar Mayor Brooke Eisenberg-Pike, who opposes the undergrounding districts, said the lack of insurance savings exposes flaws in assertions of safety benefits.
“It’s disingenuous to say that this is a huge safety issue since this was never done for safety,” she said. “My insurer was more interested in whether I was near rocks that would slide.”
Assistant City Manager Mark Delin said it was never the city’s expectation that this project would lower homeowner’s insurance rates.
Those who believe there is a flaw in the amount their property was assessed can make a request to the City Council to have project engineers review the original assessment.
Project Engineer Ernesto Aguilar, who has worked with the city of Del Mar on developing and implementing the undergrounding assessment methodology since the early 2000s, said the council will not adhere to these requests unless the landowner has a valid reason. He said he only foresees a “handful” of these requests being granted, and expects the vast majority will be in the Sunset District, which has more oddly-shaped lots.
“If you make an adjustment, it’s because it’s keeping with the methodology,” he said, adding that an argument that an assessment “seems too high” will not be considered.
Any adjustments would not be present on mail-in ballots, so he suggested those unsure to wait on voting until they know their final cost. Aguilar said he would present final assessments to the council at the public hearing on April 26.
If any assessments were decreased, the gap in total cost of the project would be made up for in contingency funds. The city is not allowed to increase assessments.
- Council OKs more funding for undergrounding projects
- Sunset undergrounding assessment: What’s the formula?
- Council stays course on undergrounding projects
- Utility project to go to ballot
- Utility proposal worries some
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